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When To Use Lie Or Lay

Figuring out when to use lie or lay can give you a headache. Lie and lie are difficult verbs! Do you need to lie down? Lay down? Forget that! Wake up, read this simple lie vs. lay article, and your headache will go away.

Here’s a little exercise:

One of these is correct. Can you tell which one?
A) We lie the silverware on the table.
B) We lay the silverware on the table.

Do you know which is correct in this example?
A) I have lied to you before.
B) I have laid to you before.

And, what about this one?
A) She is lying on the floor.
B) She is laying on the floor.

Not sure? Let us help you solve the mystery behind the lie and lay rules! Let’s start with the definitions of lie and lay.

lie1: to say something untrue in order to benefit
lie2: to recline, or to be in a horizontal position
lay: to place, which is always followed by an object
        **Tip: If you can replace the word in question with put, then use lay.

lie1 (to fib), which is a regular verb:
The present tense is conjugated with lie/lies/lying, depending on the subject.
The past tense is simply conjugated with lied.

lie2 (to rest oneself), which is an irregular verb. Note: if you (or some other person) is resting, then you use this form, lie2.
The present tense is conjugated the same as lie1.
The past tense is conjugated lay or have/had lain, depending on the subject.

lay (to place or put something), which is an irregular verb. Note: if you put something down, the object is what completes the meaning of this form, lay.
The present tense is conjugated with lay/lays, depending on the subject.
The past tense is conjugated with laid or have laid, depending on the subject.

Think you have it figured out?

Let’s go back to the beginning. The answers are: B, A, and A. Revisit these rules a few times, and soon enough, you will realize there is no mystery at all.

Want more articles like this one about grammar rules and confusing words like lie or lay? Our Writer’s Relief Newsflash is a FREE monthly newsletter delivered right to your e-mail. In it you’ll find useful articles about using proper grammar and other writing-related issues, including this article on the Top 20 Misused (and Mistreated) Words. Enjoy!

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