Lay vs Lie

The English verbs lay and lie are commonly confused by even native English speakers. I’m not lying when I say that you can now lay your fears of not knowing the difference to rest.
Lay

Lay is a transitive verb, which means that it must be used with a direct object. The past tense and the past participle of lay are both laid.

Please lay the books on the table.
I am laying the books on the table.
I laid the books on the table.
Have you laid the books on the table?

Have you ever seen a chicken lay an egg?
The chicken has been laying eggs all week.
The chicken just laid two eggs.

"Now I lay me down to sleep…"
He laid himself down to sleep.

 
Lie

Lie is an intransitive verb, which means it cannot have a direct object. The past tense of lie is lay and the past participle is lain.

Lie down next to me.
I am lying next to her.
Yesterday, I lay down next to her.
He has lain down with us.

I just want to lie in bed all day.
I’m thinking about lying in bed all day.
Yesterday, he lay in bed all day.

Don’t lie on the floor!
I lay on the floor last week and you didn’t say anything.

Lie (past tense lied) means to say something untrue.

Don’t lie to me.
He lied about where he got the money.

 
The Bottom Line

There are two problems here. One is that lie and lay mean more or less the same thing; it’s just that lie is intransitive and lay is transitive. In addition, the past tense of lie is identical to the present tense lay. Just remember that in the present, you lie down/on/in, but you lay something. Once you’ve got that straight in your head, you just need to work on the past tenses and you’ll be all set – no lie!

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15 comments for “Lay vs Lie

  1. Moi
    4 May 2014 at 9:22 am

    Thanks, I always get confused with this

  2. Rod
    22 May 2014 at 5:57 am

    Didn’t help. So was she laying next to me in bed or lying next to me?

    • lkl
      22 May 2014 at 6:39 am

      Since there’s no direct object, she’s lying next to me – just like the first example in the “lie” section. Thanks for your question, it hadn’t occurred to me to include examples with the present participle.

  3. Andrea
    18 June 2014 at 8:31 pm

    So would I say “my son just lay down after whimpering for a minute.” ? You can help me with my punctuation next lol

    • lkl
      19 June 2014 at 11:03 am

      Yes, that’s correct.

      • Andrea
        19 June 2014 at 11:13 am

        Thanks for the reassurance. Much appreciated!

  4. 30 June 2014 at 9:56 am

    Very interesting. I am currently writing a song and want to say

    “So please keep the family tradition, and lay me down in peace to lie”
    Not sure if that’s right or wrong but we can always call it poetic license which is the writers escape route most of the time.

  5. Desiree
    1 July 2014 at 11:29 am

    Hi!

    Could you help clarify what to use in the following context?

    “The responsibility lies/lays with me”

    • lkl
      5 July 2014 at 11:50 am

      Lies, because there is no direct object.

  6. CA
    28 August 2014 at 11:18 am

    What about:
    “that tells me just where my attention should lay/lie”

    “Lie” there to me looks like I’m calling my attention a liar :)

    • lkl
      28 August 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Ha, yes, but “lie” is the only correct answer because it’s intransitive.

  7. CM
    5 September 2014 at 7:01 pm

    In the midst of a sprawling community lies Anyname Park.

    or

    In the midst of a sprawling community lays Anyname Park.

    • lkl
      6 September 2014 at 11:21 am

      >>In the midst of a sprawling community lies Anyname Park.

      This one is correct. Even though Anyname Park follows the verb, it’s not the direct object, but rather the subject of “lies.” You can tell because you can reword it to “Anyname Park lies in the midst of a sprawling community.”

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