If there is one thing that can make learning English hard for students, it’s the fact that there are many easily confused words. For example, you have homographs, which are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings (the present of the verb ‘read,’ and the past simple and past participle ‘read’). You also have homophones, which are pronounced the same but spelled differently and have different meanings (peace/piece, to/two/too, etc).

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This week we’ll be looking at three verbs that are easily confused, because the three forms are similar (and at times the same). They are the verbs to lie, to lie, and to lay. The first is the regular verb to lie, which means to not tell the truth. Because it is a regular verb, the past simple and past participle are the same: we add the letters ‘-ed.’ The three forms are lie – lied – lied. For example:

  • You should never lie.
  • He lied when he said that didn’t care whether they lived or died.
  • I have never lied to you.

However, to make things more confusing, there is another verb ‘lie!’ The other verb lie (same spelling, same pronunciation) means to be in a horizontal position on a surface- a sofa, the floor, a bed. For example, when we get home, we often lie on the sofa and rest. Every night when we sleep, we lie in bed. This verb lie is irregular, and all three forms are different: lie – lay – lain. For example:

  • “Lie down,” the boy said to his dog.
  • I lay on the sofa for three hours yesterday afternoon.
  • He has lain in bed enough; let’s wake him up.

The last verb is to lay. Notice that the infinitive form of this verb is the same as the past simple of the irregular verb lie. This word means to place something carefully on a surface. The three forms are lay – laid – laid. For example:

  • The teacher always lays the book on the table at the beginning of the lesson.
  • The boy laid the wine glass on the kitchen table.
  • I’ve already laid the quilt on the bed.

There are other expressions in which we can use the verb to lay. For example, ‘to lay the table’ means to prepare the table for a meal, by putting plates and glasses and silverware on it. When birds and turtles produce eggs, we say they lay eggs.

If we can remember which verbs are regular and which are irregular, and if we can also remember the three forms of these verbs, then using these three different verbs should be a breeze! Practice what you’ve learned with the exercise.

A. Edstrom
Callan Team

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