In my continuing series about using the correct words in correct situations for line editing, today we tackle lay/lie and stationary/stationery.

Lie vs. Lay

During my final proof of Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters, I had the hardest time with the words lie, lay, and all of their counterparts. To address this problem, I avoided using the word wherever possible such as in “curled on the floor” or “she was perpendicular on the bed.” But sometimes, I just couldn’t avoid it. So I got out my handy A Pocket Style Manual, 5th Ed., by Diana Hacker.

Every time I came across some derivative of lie or lay, I had to think critically about what I was trying to say. Was I trying to say to “recline or rest on a surface” as defined by Hacker in A Pocket Style Manual in which case a form of lie was appropriate (p.26)? Or was I trying to put something or someone in a place in which case lay would be correct?

And it gets even more confusing. After I figured out which of lie or lay was appropriate, I had to figure out which word was correct for the tense I was using. If the correct word was a form of lie, then the correct past tense word was lay (yes, the same as the root word for place/put something) and the present participle was lying as in “is lying down” which is the same as if someone is being untruthful. The past participle of lie is lain which I avoided totally. For lay, past tense and past participle is laid while the present participle is laying as in “she is laying the book in the trash.”

Even after all of the studying I did comparing my lays or lies to the guidelines in A Pocket Style Manual, all of these lies, lays, laids, lains, lyings, and layings are swimming around in my head. So it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to turn my page away from this section any time soon. I just hope I made the right choices in my proof.

Stationary vs. Stationery

One little letter that does so much! Here, switch E for A or vice-versa, and you’ve got two totally different things. The one with an E, stationery, is the paper or other materials used to write letters including not only the paper but envelopes, pencil, and pens. (See’s definition by clicking here.)

On the other hand, stationary, means something quite different and unrelated to letter-writing. Stationary refers more to a speed or spatial position. According to, to be stationary means to not be moving, to be standing still, unmovable, or remaining in the same condition. (Click here for definition.)

There is really no easy way – that I can think of anyway – to keep the two straight other than to remember the writing tools are spelled with an E and the others with an A. If you can’t remember, just flip-flop them and you’ll get half of them right.

Just kidding … don’t do that. Get a dictionary or go to and look it up to be sure.