Is it Lay or Laid?

Here’s a vexing grammar problem: Is it lay or laid? Forms of lie/lay cause a great deal of confusion, and it seems that journalists struggle as much as the rest of us do.

A lay/laid problem caught my eye in a news story about the Casey Anthony murder trial yesterday. First, some background: Casey Anthony is accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee. (We’re getting a live TV broadcast of the trial, which is taking place in Orlando, less than an hour away from where my husband and I live.)

On Monday a canine handler, Jason Forgey, testified that his dog, trained to respond to decomposing human remains, had lain down in Anthony’s back yard. Here’s how our local paper, the Ledger, reported his testimony:

When deputies opened the car’s trunk, the dog jumped forward and placed his paws on the car. He then laid down, indicating an alert, Forgey testified.  INCORRECT

Oops! The writer slipped up. It should have been “He then lay down….” The past of lie is lay.

Laid is always used with an object:

I laid the paper on his desk. CORRECT

The Christian Science Monitor apparently has a better copyeditor: They got it right. Here’s how they reported the canine incident:

Jason Forgey, a K-9 officer with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, said his dog stood on his hind legs and put his head and paws into the open trunk of Casey Anthony’s 1998 Pontiac Sunfire. The dog then lay down on the ground near the car’s right tail light and made eye contact with Deputy Forgey. CORRECT

Very few people use the various forms of lie and lay correctly. Knowing lie/lay/laid/lain sets you apart from the pack – highly recommended!



2 thoughts on “Is it Lay or Laid?

  1. Paul

    I’ve been struggling with this for years. ‘I lay down’ is proper usage, but it defies logic. Lay down when? Today? Now? Three weeks ago? In another hour?

    Maybe the soothsayers should bend a little on this one, accept that people use ‘laid’ because it sounds like the proper form to use (said, tried, made…). It’s not exactly like using ‘ain’t.’

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Actually “I lay down” is not standard (unless you’re saying the child’s prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep” OR you’re talking about past tense: Last night I lay down for an hour before I watched Jay Leno’s monologue).
    Lay needs an object: “I lay me down” or “I’m going to lay the packages here until I have time to put everything away.”
    I agree with you about the difficulty! I too struggled for years (even after I started teaching English!). Finally one day it stuck. And you’re right–it’s not at all like saying “ain’t,” which is glaring.

Leave a Reply