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I'm preparing for some competitive exam and I'm reading an English grammar book, in that I encountered a test on lie and lay, but I do have a doubt on two questions, I don't know whether I'm right or not but let me tell you about my knowledge on usage of lie and lay

  1. Lie is always used as intransitive verb in all it's forms:
    lie lay lain lying
  2. Lay is used as a transitive verb and also used in passive voice:
    lay lay laid laying

Now the two questions and my answers, but I do not know whether my answers are correct or not:

  1. (Laid,Lain) on its side the child was able to breathe better.

My answer is "lain" because I think there's a need of intransitive verb so obviously it's "lain".

  1. (Laying,Lying) on its side, the child was able to breathe better.

My answer "lying".

  • On the sister site English Language & Users there is an extensive discussion on this subject, in which @John Lawler, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, provides a comprehensive and authoritative answer. What is the difference between "lay" and "lie?" – WS2 Sep 4 '17 at 22:43
  • I don't believe your lay, lay, laid, laying for the transitive verb is entirely correct. @John Lawler has lay, laid, laid, laying. In other words "I lay my cards on the table" is present tense. The past would have to be "I laid my cards on the table". – WS2 Sep 4 '17 at 22:59
  • I guess this two words are so tricky, that's why they ask extensively in competitive exams along with usage of pronouns. – user255470 Sep 5 '17 at 1:40
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If you are unsure about the right form, rephrase the sentence with a different verb - the two typical substitutions, however inelegant, could be "place, position" vs. "recline, rest".

For your sample sentence (regarding the given choice of verb form) we get

  1. With the past participle, indicating passive1:

    (Having been) Positioned on its side....

  2. Using the continuous form:

    Resting on its side...

Now picking the matching form of lie / lay from your handy list, you get:

  1. Laid on its side...

and

  1. Lying on its side...

And yes, you can also say that sentence 2 has no object, hence must be a form of "lie".


1 We are looking at a participle clause with the past participle here, which have a passive meaning

  • Would you please elaborate the first one, because I thought the answer is Lain. Thank you – user255470 Sep 4 '17 at 17:43
  • "Lain" would work only together with something like "Having lain on the couch...". But your choice of forms only gives you the "bare" participle, which means it must be passive. And remember that in a passive construction the former object becomes the subject and vice versa. Works even with an ellipsis - (someone) placed the baby -> the baby was the object, hence "lay", or "laid" respectively.. – Stephie Sep 4 '17 at 17:50
  • The first is a participle clause using the past participle, which indicates a passive construction. See here or here. Sorry, that was the first example I stumbeled over while quickly searching for an explanation. – Stephie Sep 4 '17 at 17:57
  • Thank you very much, as I'm a non native speaker I'm unable to recognize the ellipsis. – user255470 Sep 4 '17 at 17:58
  • Could I clarify the open question regarding sentence 1, or do you have more questions? – Stephie Sep 4 '17 at 18:00
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The verb lie (lie, lay, have Lain, lying) is an intransitive and means to be resting position. I was told to lie down The verb lay (lay, laid, have laid, laying) is a transitive and means to put something down. *I was told to lay the book down

  • Laid on its side, the child was able to breathe better is correct since the subordinate clause that begins with the third form of the verb means that the baby was laid by someone else on its side. So, we need a transitive verb.

  • Lying on its side, the child was able to breathe better is correct since the subordinate clause that begins with the -ing form of the verb means that the baby is lying (intransitive) not to make something else laying down.

  • Other examples to make it easy:

  • Shouting loudly, Mark walked home. [Mark was shouting]

  • Shouted at loudly, Mark walked home. [Someone was shouting at Mark]

  • How about "Mrs Jones laid some eggs on the table"? – WS2 Sep 4 '17 at 22:22
  • It's right. laid is the past of lay which takes an object ( some eggs). It means he put down some eggs on the table. – user61367 Sep 4 '17 at 22:26
  • In other words, to avoid confusion, it is better to say "Mrs Jones put some eggs on the table". Is that right? – WS2 Sep 4 '17 at 22:48
  • You can use put instead of laid with a slight difference. When you "lay" an object, it means that you are placing this object gently. It also implies that you are placing an object on top of something. Whereas the word "put" doesn't carry connotations of completing the action carefully or softly and when you "put" an object somewhere, you aren't necessarily placing it on top of something else (it can be placed in any direction) – user61367 Sep 4 '17 at 23:05
  • It was actually meant to be a joke - a very old one, re the vicar who announced at Harvest Festival (Thanksgiving, in America) "Mrs Jones will now step forward and lay her eggs on the table". – WS2 Sep 4 '17 at 23:14

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