From a song by Bob Dylan:

Lay lady lay, Lay across my big brass bed.

Is lay lady lay grammatical? It looks like the guy confused the verb 'lay' with 'lie' here. Is it the case? Bob Dylan is not known for meticulously following grammar rules, remember.

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    If this subject interests you, the "Zombie English" episode of the podcast Lexicon Valley discusses the origin of the strange rules in English regarding "lay" and "lie". Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


Most song lyrics can be considered as poetry - sometimes a lyricist or poet will dispense with certain rules of grammar in order to add aesthetics elements to their writing, so don't get too hung up on grammar when it comes to works like this. Yes, the intransitive verb "lie" seems more appropriate than the transitive "lay", but you'd have to ask the artist why he made that choice. It may have been for aesthetics (ie it sounded better, or possibly even looked better - "lady" is only one letter different from "lay"), it may have been so that there was no confusion with the other meaning of "lie" (to tell a mistruth), or possibly even a pun on the alternative slang meaning of "lay", to have sex, which would also fit with the meaning of the song - he is asking her to lie down with him.

Other than that, the construction seems grammatical to me if one adds the punctuation: "Lay, Lady, Lay". According to the Wikipedia entry for the song, it is often rendered this way anyway.

"Lay, Lady, Lay" is as grammatical as the lyrics "Go, Johnny, Go" (Johnny B. Goode), or "ride, Sally, ride" (Mustang Sally). It is a verb used as an order, the noun the order is addressed to, and then a repetition of the verb, either to emphasise the order or to denote continuation.

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    Intransitive lay goes back to 1300. The OED says " Now ... it is only dialectal or an illiterate substitute for lie, its identity of form with the past tense of the latter no doubt accounting largely for the confusion. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was not apparently regarded as a solecism".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 9:46
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    Longman labels it as spoken English in this meaning, and says "...some people consider this use to be incorrect".
    – user3395
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 12:44
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    Is there also a principle of an implicit object of the verb not being stated as in, "Lay [yourself] across my big brass bed?" Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 19:08
  • It might also be worth pointing out that "lay" can be interpreted as performing a sexual activity with a person - "lay Lady Lay" would be a command to have sex with a Lady named Lay.
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 12:58
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    @nick012000 that would contradict the rendering with punctuation - see the wikipedia link.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 13:12

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