Rogue Words from A to Z: Led to Lie Down Loosely

A to Z Letter LIt seems there are many rogue words beginning with the letter L that lull us into danger.

I’ve had requests from my readers to talk about the differences between lie/lay, lead/led, AND lose/loose. I didn’t want to leave anyone out. So today I’m going to be ambitious and write a bedtime story about all three topics, which hopefully won’t put you to sleep!

Lie vs. Lay

Once upon a time, there was a young boy named Lee who hated bedtime. It felt like every time he went to sleep he had nightmares.

He didn’t want to lay down his bedtime book on his bedside table.

He didn’t want to lie down in his bed.

He thought the rhyme “Now I lay me down to sleep…” was scary.

The difference between lie and lay is that lie is an intransitive verb while lay is a transitive verb.

An intransitive verb (like lie) is a type of verb that does not act on the direct object of a sentence. When you “lie down” you are not doing something to another object, you are simply lying down somewhere.

A transitive verb (like lay) is a type of verb that acts on a direct object. When you lay down a book, you are doing something to the book (putting it down). This is why you use lay and not lie.

Knowing this difference, you would think that “Now I lay me down to sleep” is incorrect, but it’s not. The object of lay in this case is me. You are saying “lay me down” (with me as the object) instead of “lie down,” which does not have an object. Both of these constructions are correct.

As if this weren’t challenging enough, the past tense of the verb lie is lay. (The past tense of lay is laid.) Ouch! You can see why this verb causes so many problems.  Here’s how this verb works in the past tense.

Lee laid down his bedtime book.

Lee lay down in his bed.

Lee tried not to think about bedtime rhymes, and closed his eyes tightly in fierce concentration. His fingers were clenched around the bedsheet.

Lead vs. Led

With his eyes squinched shut, Lee thought about what could help him sleep. How could he avoid the nightmares?

sandman in rise of the guardians

Image from Rise of the Guardians by DreamWorks SKG

In the darkness behind his eyelids, a fuzzy warm glowing dot appeared. It grew and grew, until all at once Lee could see that the warm light was shining from the Sandman.

The Sandman couldn’t speak, but he beckoned Lee forward. Lee knew that the Sandman was going to lead him to a happy dream with no nightmares in it. Lee started to go towards the Sandman. The Sandman turned and led him down a shiny pathway covered in jewel-bright flowers.

The past tense of the verb lead is led. People often use lead for both the present and the past tense, probably because the verb read is spelled as read in both of these tenses. But for lead, you need to use led when speaking in the past tense.

Lose vs. Loose

As Lee began to lose consciousness and slide into sleep, his clenched hands loosened and relaxed. He knew he would never lose his way and wander into a nightmare ever again.

To remember when to spell lose vs. loose, think about how you need to loosen up and lose your fears.

Sandy watched Lee sleeping and smiled. He was just another Guardian doing his job. But he would never get tired of it.


Have you seen Rise of the Guardians? What did you think of it? I must confess I like Sandy the best, although the Easter Bunny comes close!

This post is dedicated to Celine Jeanjean, Nicole Roder, and Margie Brizzolari. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will manhandle the malicious letter M…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

49 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: Led to Lie Down Loosely

  1. Some very good learning this morning, though I knew some of the rules, you gave me a much more interesting way to remember them! I did not see Rise of the Guardians, and curious now to look into the character of the Sandman….the only Sandman I remember is from the song from the band America. thanks for the educative post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read somewhere that lie vs. lay is the trickiest to learn of all the verb challenges. Even though I know these rules, I still find myself having to look it up once in a while. 🙂


    1. I’m glad, Rhonda! That one came from Margie, who had another saying to help with this, too (that didn’t end up fitting in with the post): “If you want your pants to be loose, you need to lose weight.”


  2. No matter how many times I use it, I inevitably have to look up the past tenses of lay and lie. I think I’m close to keeping it straight for good. Until the next time I use the words and forget all over again…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think some of the trouble with lead / led is also that when “lead” is noun, as in the metal, it’s pronounced like “led” and that doesn’t help. My trouble rests with lie / lay…still. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked it up, still have to double check most of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. English is a big jumbled mess. I’m so glad it’s my native language and that I’ve always been a grammar/linguistic nerd. Otherwise, I just don’t know if I could handle it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use lie/lay and not look it up. I simply don’t trust myself to not get it confused. I’m reading my son the Rise of the Guardians books right now. We’ve seen the movie, but we both prefer the books.
    Visiting from the A to Z trail!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Sabrina! Welcome to my blog, I’m glad you could stop by. You’re right, the books are great, too. I love the illustrations, they are simply fantastic. 🙂


  5. Yes! I knew it would be lay vs. lie. 😀 *high five* As for the words, I have to use a cheat sheet–I’m not even joking. I do all right with the present tense of the words, but the past and participle tenses… yeah, my brain can’t handle it.

    And I know I’ve written “lead” instead of “led” at times. I think, for me, it’s because the metal, as in “lead pipes” sounds the same (which I see has also been pointed out by another commenter). Loose vs. lose, though, I’m good on that one. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, one out of three’s not bad. 😉 My brain turns into spaghetti on lay vs. lie as well, and I admit to having written lead, too. Guess I’ll have to keep going back to my own post!


  6. I’m ok on these three – I think! I hadn’t noticed the lose / loose mix-up much until recently – it seems to be becoming more common. I like the lose weight / loose pants idea, I might use that one next time – correcting pants to trousers of course! 🙂 I wouldn’t presume to comment on anyone’s underwear – the old North American / British difference in usage rears its head again.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The only one I never confuse is lose/loose. The others are a nightmare to me, so thank you vary much for the explanation. At least, when I’m in doubt, I can come here and refresh my memory 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I confess, lie versus lay is one that my brain resists getting straight. I know I didn’t have this problem in school, so I don’t know why I’ve developed it as I grew older. On the other hand I haven’t gotten allergies, which many people do as they grow up, and I don’t need glasses yet, so if losing the ability to accurately choose lie versus lay is the price I pay for those benefits I suppose it’s worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love Rise of the Guardians. I actually have it in my queue to watch again. I loved how all of the holidays mixed together. And their version of Santa is my favorite. 😉

    A great tale to help us all tell those tricky, sticky words apart!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Those really were great explanations. I would have been tempted to use “lead” like this:

    “She lead the students into the library”

    Here is why:

    “Will you read a story to her at nap time?”

    “She read the story to the child at nap time.”

    These words can be so tricky. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for the explanation of the difference between a transitive and intransitive word – I’ve never studied English grammar/language formally since we did French at school and then I went into mathematics and finance, so I know absolutely nothing of grammar rules. I don’t find it a problem for writing stories, but I should really read up on it all so this is great! 🙂

    And lose and loose is a tricky one, I always have to think carefully which one to use 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t learn a lot about grammar rules until I was past most of my formal schooling. I found it very helpful to see how sentences are constructed. Glad it’s helpful for you as well! If you’re looking for books, Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale is a good one to read through. I also refer to Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman. Both of them provide lots of examples, and Hale’s book has a wicked sense of humour. 🙂


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