Lay or Lie?
Lay or Lie?What is the difference between "lay" and "lie"?
- "To lay" means to place in a horizontal position. For example:
- Every morning, he lays her dressing gown on the bed.
- "To lie" means to be in a horizontal position. (Beware! The past tense is "lay.") For example:
- In the evenings, I lie on my sofa and listen to music.
- Her dressing gown lay on the bed. (This is the past tense.)
- "To lie" also means to speak an untruth. For example:
- I lie for you all the time.
Table Showing the FormsThe table below shows the various forms of "to lay" and both meanings of "to lie:
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Participles|
|To lay (to place in a horizontal position)|
|To lie (to tell an untruth)|
|To lie (to be in a horizontal position)|
A Video SummaryHere is a 3.5-minute video summarizing this lesson on "to lay" and "to lie":
More about "Lay" and "Lie"There is often confusion over the verbs "to lay" and "to lie." The confusion arises because "to lay" [to place something in a horizontal position] and "to lie" [to be in a horizontal position] have similar meanings. The confusion is not helped by the past tense of "to lie" (when it means to be in a horizontal position) being "lay."
Here are the most common terms with "to lie" and "to lay":
- To lay something flat (e.g., a table cloth)
- To lie flat (i.e., to be in a lying position) (Remember that "He lay flat" is correct for the past tense.)
- To lie low (to keep a low profile) ("He lay low" is correct for the past tense.)
- To lie down (to get into a lying position) ("He lay down" is correct for the past tense.)
- To lie ahead (to be in the future or farther down the road) ("It lay ahead" is correct for the past tense.)
To Lay (Past Tense: Laid)"To lay" means to place something in a position, especially a horizontal position. For example:
- The maids lay the table for dinner at 7 o'clock.
- The policeman urged the boys to lay their weapons on the floor.
- Put your hands up, and lie down your weapons. (This should be "lay down.")
- We are expecting our white spotted bamboo shark to lay eggs in April.
- Annabelle laid the puppy in the basket.
- They laid the body on the bank and notified the coroner.
- According to the pamphlet, we should have laid old sheets on the floor to prevent paint splashes landing on the decking.
- A teenager killed by a shark in northern New South Wales has been laid to rest.
To Lie (Past Tense: Lied)The verb "to lie" (with the past tense "lied") means "to say something untrue in order to deceive." For example:
- Did you lie about your age to join the Army?
- Your eyes betray you when you lie.
- My reflexologist says I am lying about my health. He says that my feet, however, do not lie. (The present participle of "to lie" is "lying")
- Malcolm lied his way past the doormen.
- Billy lied so often about his boxing achievements, he forgot the truth.
- Malcolm had lied his way past the doormen.
To Lie (Past Tense: Lay)The verb "to lie" (with the past tense "lay") means "to be in, or move into, a horizontal position." For example:
- I think I'll lie down for 20 minutes after lunch.
- Lie on your back and look at the stars.
- Clutching his betting slip, Mr. Reynolds screamed, "Get up! Don't just lie there." However, Paul was just lying on his back with one eye on the referee while the count went ahead. (The present participle of to "to lie" is "lying.")
- My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income. (As in this example, "to lie" can simply mean "to be.")
- An alibi? I just lay on the sofa all night, watching The Simpsons.
- The snow lay on the field all week.
- Mark had lain at the foot of the knoll for hours.
- How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home?
The Main CulpritThe most common mistake is to use "lie" instead of "lay." If you remember that "lie" cannot take a direct object, then you will eliminate this error.
- To lay your head on the pillow.
- To lie your head on the pillow. (In these examples, "your head" is the direct object. Remember that "lie" cannot have a direct object.)
- My chicken lays eggs.
- My chicken lies eggs. (In these examples, "eggs" is the direct object. Remember that "lie" cannot have a direct object.)
The Other Culprits"Lay" (the past tense of "to lie") is not common, and some people are tempted (incorrectly) to use "laid." For example:
- The crocodile laid still for hours. (This should be be "lay.")
- The snow had laid on the field all week. (This should be "lain.")