H is usually good, except when she says she prefers American English to British English. And my attempts to tell her that American English is an offshoot of the language that chiefly developed in the British Isles has been to no avail so far. But then, well, the British didn’t exactly invent English, so I shall grant her that, for now.

But then what I will not grant her is her saying “I just lied down for a while and before I knew it, I was sleeping.” No, no, no, H, nice as you are, you are wrong when you say “Lied”. You need to understand that essential little difference between “Lie” and “Lay” so that the next time you talk about why you missed our coffee date, you don’t make the same mistake.

Ok, so the main difference between the two words is that “Lay” is a transitive verb, and “Lie” is an intransitive verb. What? No, don’t go away yet. It’s not that difficult. Sit back down!

Right, so a transitive verb is one that takes a direct object and an intransitive verb is one that does not take a direct object. In simpler words, when the action of the verb moves from the actor to the thing acted on, it is a transitive verb, and when that does not happen it is an intransitive verb. So you lie on the bed (no direct object because you do it yourself), and you lay the plate down on the table (the plate is the direct object). Also, remember that “to lay” means to “to put” and “to lie” means “to be in a reclining position

But then that is only in the present tense, where you are talking about doing something now, whether you lie on the bed or you lay the plate on the table. The easiest way to remember this is to know that you lay something down, but you can lie down yourself.

The confusion is greater when we are talking about the past tense. Now, “lay” is actually also the past tense of the verb “lie“. In a sentence, if you are confused, keep the tense in mind and it will be easier for you:

Present Tense: Lay
Past Tense: Laid
Past Participle: Laid

Present Tense: Lie
Past Tense: Lay
Past Participle: Lain

Let’s conjugate these words now, shall we?

Please lay the spoon on the plate.
He laid the report on my table with some resentment
She had laid down the rules of the hostel clearly to us at the beginning of the semester.

I am going to lie down for a while
Yesterday when the medics found her, she lay on the bed bleeding.
I have lain in bed all morning.

Oh ok, still confused? Let’s make it even simpler, ok?

– You want to lie down today, yesterday you lay down and you have lain down every night.
– I told you lay the plate on the table now, yesterday you laid the the plate down nicely, and you have laid the plate nicely in the past.

I hope I have been able to lay this down clearly for you now, so this lies in your mind and the next time you say it, you don’t make the same mistake again.

PS: Just thought of another example. People lie, and hens lay (eggs). Can’t get clearer than that now, can I?