Friday, February 27, 2009

Question from Hannah about "lay" and "laid".

Dear Word Spy,

I'm writing a story and want to know is it "the girl lay down the knife", or is it "the girl laid down the knife"?


Dear Hannah,

Gosh - is this a scary story? or just about someone spreading peanut butter on their toast for breakfast...

Anyway, what you should write is "the girl laid down the knife", because it is the past tense of "to lay". If you lay the table, lay an egg, lay a knife, lay a jelly bean on your sister's nose etc - in other words you put something on something (or someone) else - if it happened in the past you write "laid".

The other kind of "lay" is the past tense of "to lie". So yesterday I lay on the bed, lay on the floor and lay in the path of a raging dinosaur.

An easy way to work out which one you should use is to put your sentence in the present tense. What sounds better?

The girl lays down the knife vs The girl lies down the knife.

The crazy red hen
lays an egg at midnight vs The crazy red hen lies an egg at midnight.

Well, you can't "lie down" a knife or "lie" an egg - so it's got to be "laid."

your good friend, the Word Spy

P.S. Talking of lying, do you think I lied when I said I lay in the path of a raging dinosaur?????

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