Britney and an Error in Diction: lay/lie

May 19, 2006

Britney Spears gives her baby ice cream before he lays down to sleep.

This sentence contains an error in diction: the improper use of a form of the verb "to lay."

"To lay" is a transitive verb that means "to place something on a surface" and requires an object. You lay something down.

"To lie" is an intransitive verb that means "to be in or take on a horizontal position." Since it is intransitive, it never takes a subject. You lie down to sleep.

There is no object in the clause that begins with "before." The baby is reclining, not putting something down. Correct the sentence by replacing "lay" with "lie."

Britney Spears gives her baby ice cream before he lies down to sleep.

Alternatively, you can change the structure of the sentence to form a direct object and use the transitive "lay."

Britney Spears gives her baby ice cream before she lays him down to sleep.

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