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