Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lay and Lie

Many variables create the lay and lie conundrum. Not only are they irregular verbs, but other issues arise when dealing with these two words and their various forms:

The past tense of one form is the present tense of another, i.e., the past tense of lie is lay.
Lay is also a present tense verb.
One of them, lie, can also refer to an untruth.

Lay means to put down, or to place.
It is a transitive verb and requires an object.

Lie means to recline, or occupy a location.
It is an intransitive verb and does not have an object.

Tip from CCP: A good way to remember which has an object and which doesn't is LIE. When using it to reference an untruth it has a negative connotation, so think of the fact that it does NOT have an object.

Therefore, you LAY a book on a table, and you LIE down.
(You don't lie the book on the table - you have an object. And, in the present tense, you don't lay down - you don't have an object).

Confused yet?

Here are some examples on how to conjugate these two verbs:

Remember lay is transitive and must have a direct object.
The past tense of lay is laid.

- Present tense: I lay the books on the table.
- Past tense: I laid the books on the table.
- Past participle: I had laid the books on the table.

Remember lie is intransitive and cannot have a direct object.
The past tense of lie is lay.

- Present tense: I lie down to rest.
- Past tense: Yesterday, I lay down to rest.
- Past participle: One day last week I had lain down to rest.

Substituting lay with place:

Since lay means to put down or to place, a good test in deciding whether to use lay or lie in a sentence is to *substitute the word place, placed or placing (as appropriate) for the word in question. If the substitute fits, the corresponding form of lay is correct. If it doesn't, use the appropriate form of lie.

- I will (lie or lay?) down now. (You would not say "I will place down now." Therefore, "I will lie down now" is correct.)

- I (laid or lay?) the pad on the desk. ("I placed the pad on the desk" works. Therefore, "I laid the pad" is correct.)

- I (laid or lay?) awake many nights. ("I placed awake" doesn't work. "I lay awake" is correct.)

- These files have (laid or lain?) untouched for some time. ("These files have placed untouched" doesn't work. Correct: "These files have lain untouched.")

- He has been (laying or lying?) down on the job. ("He has been placing down on the job" doesn't work. Correct: "He has been lying down.")*

*Source: The Gregg Reference Manual, Sixth Edition*

Even grammar "experts" have a difficult time with lay and lie, and use a cheat sheet such as the one below:



Lay*................Laid............Laid______to place or put down
Lie..................Lay..............Lain______to recline

*Remember - requires an object.

(Special Note: "Layed" is not a word - it is "LAID.")

Today you lay the book on the table,
yesterday you laid the book on the table,
and in the past you have laid the book on the table.

You need to lie down today,
yesterday you lay down
and in the past you have lain down.

If you had printed this out, you could now lay the pages on the table and go lie down and relax after reading all this information about lay and lie.

If all else fails, at least the chart above will help you remember. Really! I wouldn't lie!


  1. OMG! This is GREAT!!! I might actually understand it now. And talk about your substitutions. I ALWAYS find another way of saying it if I'm not sure. Thanks so much, Crystal. This is an awesome site!


  2. "An excellent tutorial, I shall not lie," said the Old Silly as he laid his laptop down on the floor and lay down to rest on the couch.

  3. Diana THANK YOU - you made my day! This was a challenge to be as succinct as possible...

    Marvin, did you "place your laptop on the floor" and "recline" YESTERDAY? (You used the past tense of both in your sentence.) Just wondering...

  4. And so Marvin's reply:
    "Yes...yesterday,:" said the Old Silly as he lied to cover up the truth."
    LOL - Gotta love ya Marvin!!

  5. You have a great way of explaining words. This one I actually knew but there are others that I know I use incorrectly all the time, mostly because I get in a hurry. Your blog is a wonderful source for writers. I'll have to search your post to see if you have "affect" "effect", I know I use those improperly often.

    Chris C

  6. I have a little cheat sheet up on my wall for lie/lay. And I always use it. Thanks for the refresher!

  7. Alan,
    Glad to see you stop by and you're welcome for the refresher!

    First, thank you so much for the (very much appreciated) compliments! I haven't done "affect" and "effect" yet, but I do love getting this kind of input and ideas for future posts! Guess what the next topic will be? :)

  8. Special thanks to The Old Silly for these kind words:

    "Love your blog posts - you have such a succinct and clear way of clearing up the most difficult and subtle nuances of good writing and editing."

  9. I'm confused, but then, I used to be a blonde!
    I'll work on those...

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

  10. Love your blog. I'm one of those few people that love grammar (although my spelling is not always the best). Lie and lay are terms that we learn in school and then forget about once we graduate. Thanks for this, you're keeping English intact.

  11. Bill what a great compliment! Thank you so much!


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