This is "wings down" the most mind boggling word trio around. Period. If you're confused, rest assured, you're in good company. But I aim to clear that confusion, so pour yourself a beverage and grab your glasses. I'll do my best to LAY the rules on you straight!
Perhaps the biggest cause for confusion has to do with the mixed up present and past tense forms. So I'll take them one at a time.
LIE is an action YOU DO FOR YOURSELF. It typically means to stretch out on the floor, bed, or couch. It's also appropriate to command another person or animal to do it, as long the ones you command are in control. (LIE is also the opposite of TRUTH, another topic entirely.) Here are two examples:
1) "It's bedtime, Spike, so LIE down," you say in your firmest voice. But Spike grabs his ball and runs circles around the kitchen table instead.
2) Oh boy, I'm feeling sleepy. I think I'm going to LIE down.
LAY is appropriate when YOU'RE ACTING ON SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE. Even a part of one's own self qualifies as "something else" where LAY is concerned! You can LAY a book upon a table, LAY your hand on your heart, or LAY your hand on someone else's arm. Here's a two-for-one example:
When I LAY my book on the ottoman, my dog LAYS her head on top of it.
Now for PAST TENSE:
LAY IS THE PAST TENSE OF LIE! Now you know the root of your confusion!! Here are two examples:
1) When I LAY on my bed last night, I got the worst pain in my lower back.
2) I asked Spike to LAY down, but he ran in circles instead.
LAID IS THE PAST TENSE OF LAY! At least this seems to make sense. Here's an example:
When I LAID my tower of books on the table, I made triply sure they didn't fall.
I'll leave you with this handy chart, courtesy of Grammar Lunchbox.
Thanks for reading my humble blog. If there are any word pairs that especially vex you, let me know! I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.
Laura Fineberg Cooper