Grammatical Wrecking Balls: Lie vs. Lay

Everyone seems to be very concerned about Miley Cyrus these days. After Sinéad O’Connor’s and Amanda Palmer’s open letters, Sufjan Stevens has joined to club, this time to lecture Miley on her grammar:

“Dear Miley. I can’t stop listening to #GetItRight (great song, great message, great body), but maybe you need a quick grammar lesson. One particular line causes concern: “I been laying in this bed all night long.” Miley, technically speaking, you’ve been LYING, not LAYING, an irregular verb form that should only be used when there’s an object, i.e. “I been laying my tired booty on this bed all night long.” Whatever. I’m not the best lyricist, but you know what I mean. #Get It Right The Next Time. But don’t worry, even Faulkner messed it up. We all make mistakes, and surely this isn’t your worst misdemeanor. But also, Miley, did you know the tense here is also totally wrong. Surely you’ve heard of Present Perfect Continuous Tense (I HAVE BEEN LYING in this bed all night long [hopefully getting some beauty sleep?]). It’s a weird, equivocal, almost purgatorial tense, not quite present, not quite past, not quite here, not quite there. Somewhere in between. I feel that way all the time. It kind of sucks. But I have a feeling your “present perfect continuous” involves a lot more excitement than mine. Anyway, doesn’t that also sum up your career right now? Present. Perfect. Continuous. And Tense. Intense? Girl, you work it like Mike Tyson. Miley, I love you because you’re the Queen, grammatically and anatomically speaking. And you’re the hottest cake in the pan. Don’t ever grow old. Live brightly before your fire fades into total darkness. XXOO Sufjan” (

As Sufjan points out, he’s not the best lyricist either. He’s certainly right about that, as the folks at Mental Floss are eager to point out:

If you’re all confused about the use of to lie and to lay now, have a look at the dictionary entries for both verbs again (provided by

lie2 (laɪ Pronunciation for lie2



Word forms:  lies, lying, lay  (leɪ Pronunciation for lain  (leɪn Pronunciation for


  1. often foll by down to place oneself or be in a prostrate position, horizontal to the ground
  2. to be situated, esp on a horizontal surface ⇒ the pencil is lying on the desk, India lies to the south of Russia
  3. to be buried ⇒ here lies Jane Brown
  4. copula to be and remain (in a particular state or condition) ⇒ to lie dormant
  5. to stretch or extend ⇒ the city lies before us
  6. usually foll by on or upon to rest or weigh ⇒ my sins lie heavily on my mind
  7. usually foll by in to exist or consist inherently ⇒ strength lies in unity
  8. foll by with
    1. to be or rest (with) ⇒ the ultimate decision lies with you
    2. (archaic) to have sexual intercourse (with)
  9. (of an action, claim, appeal, etc) to subsist; be maintainable or admissible
  10. (archaic) to stay temporarily
  11. See lie in state

  12. See lie low


lay1 (leɪ Pronunciation for lay1 )



Word forms:  lays, laying, laid  (leɪd Pronunciation for )

mainly tr

  1. to put in a low or horizontal position; cause to lie ⇒ to lay a cover on a bed
  2. to place, put, or be in a particular state or position ⇒ he laid his finger on his lips
  3. intr (not standard) to be in a horizontal position; lie ⇒ he often lays in bed all the morning
  4. sometimes foll by down to establish as a basis ⇒ to lay a foundation for discussion
  5. to place or dispose in the proper position ⇒ to lay a carpet
  6. to arrange (a table) for eating a meal
  7. to prepare (a fire) for lighting by arranging fuel in the grate
  8. also intr (of birds, esp the domestic hen) to produce (eggs)
  9. to present or put forward ⇒ he laid his case before the magistrate
  10. to impute or attribute ⇒ all the blame was laid on him
  11. to arrange, devise, or prepare ⇒ to lay a trap
  12. to place, set, or locate ⇒ the scene is laid in London
  13. to apply on or as if on a surface ⇒ to lay a coat of paint
  14. to impose as a penalty or burden ⇒ to lay a fine
  15. to make (a bet) with (someone) ⇒ I lay you five to one on Prince
  16. to cause to settle ⇒ to lay the dust
  17. to allay; suppress ⇒ to lay a rumour
  18. to bring down forcefully ⇒ to lay a whip on someone’s back
  19. (slang) to have sexual intercourse with
  20. (slang) to bet on (a horse) to lose a race
  21. to press down or make smooth ⇒ to lay the nap of cloth
  22. to cut (small trunks or branches of shrubs or trees) halfway through and bend them diagonally to form a hedge ⇒ to lay a hedge
  23. to arrange and twist together (strands) in order to form (a rope, cable, etc)
  24. (military) to apply settings of elevation and training to (a weapon) prior to firing
  25. foll by on (hunting) to put (hounds or other dogs) onto a scent
  26. another word for inlay
  27. intr; often foll by to or out (dialect (or informal) to plan, scheme, or devise
  28. intr (nautical) to move or go, esp into a specified position or direction ⇒ to lay close to the wind
  29. See lay aboard
  30. See lay a course
  31. See lay bare
  32. See lay hands on
  33. See lay hold of
  34. See lay oneself open
  35. See lay open
  36. See lay siege to

There.  So don’t follow the example of Miley’s grammatical wrecking ball and remember: “You lay something down, and people lie down by themselves”. If you need more tips on how to remember the difference between  lie/lay/lain and lay/laid/laid, read this: or just think of this poor pug:




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