Do you confuse LIE and LAY? Here’s a simple solution.

I am about to finish a great first novel by Pauline Livers. Titled Cementville (Counterpoint Press) and set in rural Kentucky during the Vietnam War, it tells the story of a town that loses seven young National Guard soldiers in one brutal overseas attack. There is much more to it, but that is where the story begins.

I love the writing and the characterization, but I keep coming across sentences using LAY where LIE would be correct. Here are two examples:

from page 72: "…she lays staring at the brown stains in the ceiling, raggedy islands in a dirty sea."

from page 98: "They lay by the water on a soft bed of storm-tossed leaves,…"

Whoops! Both of these sentences are in the present tense, which means that a form of LIE is the correct choice. Here is why: LIE is an intransitive verb describing the act of reclining. It does not take an object. LAY is a transitive verb describing the act of putting or placing something. It does take an object (the thing being put or placed.)

Here is how these two sentences should read: 

from page 72: "…she lies staring at the brown stains in the ceiling, raggedy islands in a dirty sea."

from page 98: "They lie by the water on a soft bed of storm-tossed leaves,…"


NOTE: For another example of how to use LIE and LAY correctly, please see my most recent Facebook post on the Grammar Glitch Central page. (December 28, 2014)


Please do not let these minor corrections keep you from seeking out and reading this excellent novel. If you like southern fiction that calls to mind writers like William Faulkner or Ron Rash, you will find Cementville to be a good read.



4 Responses to “Do you confuse LIE and LAY? Here’s a simple solution.”

  1. Thank you, Ruth! Almost every time I come against this very sort of conundrum, I search online for the correct usage. Darn if I didn't miss these two. And one of Counterpoint's fabulous copy editors did also! The paperback is being released next monthy, but I saw your post here just today. It's too late to make the changes, but I hope my editor will make the change when the book goes into second edition. I am so glad there are knowledgeable people like you sharing the planet with us.  All best wishes,  Paulette Livers

  2. admin says:

    Thank you for your kind words.We all overlook confusing usage issues like these. Too bad your editor didn't spot them, but perhaps in the next printing. I teach many workshops on business writing skills, and I am always looking for interesting examples that can help participants improve. Finding examples in a wide variety of reading materials helps make the "lessons" interesting. I do look forward to your next book!

  3. Hap says:

    Good Morning,

    i would like to commend you for all of your hard work and effort producing this site.  Could you please help me with an unrelated issue I encountered, while reading your explanation of lie & lay? Am I correct in inferring that the lack of quotation marks, encapsulating the title of your new book "Cementville," is due to the fact that it was authored by you?  I was under the assumption that all book titles should be in quotation marks.  In the interim, I will defer to your expertise, whilst anxiously awaiting elucidation.  Thank you very much for any help you could provide, and have a great day.

    Respectfully Submitted,


  4. admin says:

    Hi, Hap.

    Thanks for your inquiry. I put the title of the book, which was not written by me, in italics in one place and in bold print in another. Traditionally, book titles were printed in italics and not surrounded by quotation marks. The quotation marks were reserved for shorter works, like a short story  included in an anthology or an article published in a magazine. As with other grammar and usage, the language is always evolving. I have noticed recently in The New Yorker that they put boo titles in quotation marks, and some newspapers do this as well. At the moment, I think the jury is out, but I will do some additional checking to see if there is one style for journalism and another for prose.

    The fact that the book is not in quotation marks has nothing to do with who wrote it.

    Thanks again for your inquiry, and I am glad to know that you find the site worthwhile.

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