As summer begins to reveal itself and temperatures climb, you may want to lay down your paperwork and lie out in the sun—wait! Is it lie or lay? When should you use which verb? Lie versus lay is one of those grammar issues many of us struggle with. The present and past tenses of each seem to overlap, so when in doubt, most people go with lay. That’s not always the best choice.
Growing up before anyone considered the daily use of sunscreen, my sisters and I spent our summers “laying out” in the sun. I think we may have used SPF 8, but we definitely did not use correct grammar.
Much later in life, I reviewed both my skincare routine and my grammar rules. Thank goodness, it turns out there is a trick to remembering when to use lie and when to use lay. If you are not telling an untruth, lie, in the present tense, means to recline and does not require a direct object, as in, “I’m going to lie in the sun, wearing SPF 50.” Lay, in the present tense, means to place something, as in, “Please lay the sunscreen on the towel,” and does require a direct object.
When we get to the past tense with lie and lay, things get really confusing. Making the right choice requires practice, even for those of us who love words. Thankfully, we have Grammar Girl!
By the end of the summer, I will have lain in the sun for hours. Now, if I could just remember where I laid my sunscreen!