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Lay vs. Lie: How to Use the Words Lay and Lie Properly

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 14, 2020 • 2 min read

It’s an age-old question and the source of a common mistake in the English language: When should I use “lay,” and when should I use “lie”? There’s a good reason they’re often mixed up. While “lay” and “lie” are different types of verbs with different meanings, the past-tense form of the word “lie” is “lay.”Since there is so much overlap, the two are frequently confused.

In conversation, most English language speakers will not note a difference, but in formal writing, the correct use is still important.



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What Is the Definition of Lay?

“To lay” means “to place something down.” “Lay” a transitive verb, which means that “lay” requires a direct object immediately after it—you can’t just lay, you have to lay something. For example, it’s incorrect to say “He lays” with nothing after it; it’s correct to say “He lays the book down.” “Lay” has a few other verb forms: the past form of lay is “laid,” the present participle is “laying,” and the past participle form is “laid.”

If you’re wondering when to use the verb “lay,” just ask yourself: is there an object being acted upon? If yes, the correct choice is “lay.”

5 Examples of Lay in a Sentence

Here are a few example sentences that use the word “lay”:

  1. I lay the baby in the cradle. (present tense)
  2. The chicken lays eggs. (present tense)
  3. Yesterday, he laid the book on the shelf. (past tense)
  4. He is laying each loaf of bread in the basket. (present participle)
  5. She laid the fruit on the counter. (past participle)
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What Is the Definition of Lie?

“Lie” is an intransitive verb that means “to recline, or come to rest in a horizontal position.” As an intransitive verb, “lie” will not have a direct object immediately after it—you can’t “lie something,” you just “lie” somewhere in a flat position. For example: “She lies on a blanket.” The past tense is “laid” or “lay,” the present participle is “lying,” and the past participle is “lain” or “laid.”

If you’re wondering when to make use of the verb “lie,” ask yourself: What is the action of the verb, and is there an object being acted upon? If no, and you’re simply lying in a resting position on the ground or on a bed, the verb is intransitive and the correct choice is “lie.”

(There is another meaning of the word “lie”: “to tell an untruth.” This can be used both as a noun—“He tells a lie”—and a verb—“He lies” or “He lied.” Lie in this sense is separate from the “laying” vs. “lying” debate, since it is conjugated differently.)


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4 Examples of Lie in a Sentence

Here are a few examples of “lie” in the following sentences:

  1. I lie here, waiting for something to happen. (present tense)
  2. The dog lies on its bed, reclining upside down. (present tense)
  3. Last night, he lay on the bed. (past tense)
  4. She is lying on the sofa. (present participle)

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