Laying Eggs

Anyone see something wrong with this news headline?

It’s in the sub-headline.

You do not “lay” on a mattress;  you lie on a mattress.  You do not lay down;  you lie down.  “Lay down” is used as a verb requiring an object, e.g. “laying down a barrage” or even “laying down a carpet” — although to the ultra-picky, one just “lays a carpet” (the “down” is understood).

Chickens lay eggs, builders lay bricks (bricklayers), decorators lay carpets (carpetlayers, which has fallen out of use, and “carpet layers” has come into vogue, although “carpet layers” strictly speaking means a number of carpets lying (not laying) on top of one another).

In sexual slang, men lay women — historically, when a man “laid a woman down” or “lay (past tense of the verb) down with a woman”, it was a euphemism for having sex, hence “getting laid”.

If you get confused about all this, just remember:  Hens lay eggs.   It’s a transitive verb, requiring an object.

The key word is “lie”.  Any time you use the word as an expression of becoming recumbent, it’s “lie”:  lie down, lie on a bed and so on.  The only time one would say “lay on a bed” is when it happened in the past, e.g. “She lay asleep on the bed last night, clutching her teddy bear.”

“She was laying on the bed” always begs the question:  “Laying what?  Eggs?  Bricks?”  The correct expression is:  “She was lying on the bed.”

As to the correctness of having homeless Eastern Europeans lying [sic]  on mattresses outside Park Lane shops:  that is a topic for another time.


  1. Don’t shoot me, but the “reportedly” implies past tense. What if that verb were past tense?

  2. My perception is that the original caption was worded in the past tense.
    …But in your compendium you forgot to credit the lay of the land. Alas, poor Boopsie.
    Oh, and has “Gypsy” become the g-word now, in Britain?

  3. Sophomore year English in high school we spent almost a week going over lay vs lie — that teacher had it in for people who didn’t use the correct word. As a result, it became one of my pet peeves also. She’d also give you a “zero for the day” if you used the word “myself” when you should have said “me” or mispronounced “mischievous.” Miss-chiv-us. NOT miss-chee-vee-us.

    Why do I suddenly want to listen to Weird Al singing “Word Crimes?”

  4. “Hens lay eggs.”

    If any of my English teachers had uttered that phrase back in my youth, I would have been spared decades of misuse.

    We could have used the time saved arguing over my use of periods outside of quotation marks when there is a quotation “at the end of a sentence”.

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