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lay OR lie?

The verbs lay and lie confuse people because:

The following table summarizes these similarities and differences:

  lay lie lie
basic meaning to put something down in a horizontal position to recline; to be in or to take a horizontal/resting position to say something untrue
regular? irregular
lay, laid, laid
irregular
lie, lay, lain
regular
lie, lied, lied
transitive? direct object? transitive
(must have direct object)
intransitive
(no direct object)
intransitive
(no direct object)
3rd person s lays lies lies
present participle laying lying lying
past tense laid lay lied
past participle laid lain lied

lay

lay, laid, laid, laying

The main meaning of the verb lay is "to put (something) down in a horizontal position".

The important thing to remember with lay is that it is transitive, so it MUST have a direct object. You cannot just lay. You have to lay something. Look at these examples. You see they all have direct objects.

subject verb direct object  
Something lays something (somewhere).
Chickens lay eggs.  
Our chickens lay their eggs on the ground.
The nurses laid the wounded man on the bed.

Here is a table of conjugation:

  present past present perfect
I lay laid have laid
you lay laid have laid
he, she, it lays laid has laid
we lay laid have laid
you lay laid have laid
they lay laid have laid

Here are some example sentences:

lie (irregular, intransitive)

lie, lay, lain, lying

The irregular, intransitive lie means "to be in, or to take, a horizontal/resting position". This is what we do on a bed, for example. We lie on our bed when we sleep.

The important thing to remember with lie is that it is intransitive, so there is no direct object. Look at this examples. You see there is no direct object.

subject verb  
Something lies (somewhere).
My dog lies on this mat.
Mary is lying on the sofa.

You also need to remember that the past tense of this lie is "lay", which is the same as the present tense of to lay. Look at this table of conjugation:

  present past present perfect
I lie lay have lain
you lie lay have lain
he, she, it lies lay has lain
we lie lay have lain
you lie lay have lain
they lie lay have lain

Look at these example sentences:

Typical mistake

Lie is something that we do to ourselves. Lay is something that we do to other people or things.
  • I lie on the sofa when I'm tired.
  • Mary lays the baby in its crib when it cries.

lie (regular, intransitive)

lie, lied, lied, lying

The first one above is easy. In the sense "to tell a lie, say something that is not true", lie is a regular verb and has no direct object. The past tense is always -ed. Look at these examples:

  present past present perfect
I lie lied have lied
you lie lied have lied
he, she, it lies lied has lied
we lie lied have lied
you lie lied have lied
they lie lied have lied
The verbs lie and lay can have other meanings too. Only the most common are shown here. There are also several phrasal verbs made with lie and lay. They follow the same basic rules as shown on this page.