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When To Use Lie Or Lay

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Updated 12/17/19

Figuring out whether you should use lie or lay can give you a headache. At Writer’s Relief, we know lie and lay are difficult verbs! Do you need to lie down? Lay down? Forget that! Wake up, read the examples below, and you’ll know when to use lie or lay.

Tips For Using Lie And Lay Correctly

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.

Definitions:

Definition of Lie #1: to say something untrue in order to benefit; to fib. A regular verb.
The present tense is conjugated with lie/lies/lying, depending on the subject.
The past tense is simply conjugated with lied.

This is the version of lie you use when you tried to cut your own bangs: you lied and said that it had been done instead by a rogue hairstylist. You lie about the bad haircut, you lied about the bad haircut, and you’re still lying about the bad haircut even as we speak. But really, you should tell the truth. After all, hair grows back.

However, now we come to another definition (thanks, English).

Definition of Lie #2: to recline, or to be in a horizontal position; to rest oneself. An irregular verb. Note: if you (or some other person) are resting, then you use this form, Lie #2.
The present tense is conjugated the same as Lie #1.
The past tense is conjugated with lay or have/had lain, depending on the subject.

This definition applies when you’re talking about a person reclining in a horizontal position. For instance, after looking in the mirror and seeing what your hair looks like after your bangs debacle, you probably need to lie down right now. So far, so good.

But the past tense of this definition is what gives us trouble, since it looks identical to the present tense of the word lay.

Definition of Lay: to place, which is always followed by an object; to place or put something. An irregular verb. Note: if you put something down, the object is what completes the meaning of this form of the word lay.

**Very Handy Tip: If you can replace the word in question with “put,” then lay is the correct word to use.

 

Continuing with our previous example, after you had done your best to give yourself hair like Zooey Deschanel, you would lay (or put) down the scissors and stare at the mirror in horror. The past tense, again, is tricky, and often the one that gets overused; in these instances, lay would become laid: I laid the scissors down and let out a bloodcurdling scream.

Ready for a few more headache-inducing caveats? We thought you might be. When using lie and lay in their past-participle form, they evolve even further! (“Past participle?” you ask, tearing your eyes away from the vision in the mirror. We hear you.) This is when you throw in a “helping” word, like “had.” In these instances, lie becomes lain…and lay once again becomes laid. Sentences using these rules would look like this:

I had lain there for three hours before I decided to simply shave the rest of my head.

Sabastian, my hairstylist, had laid down the law the last time I cut my own hair. He would not be pleased to see me.

Think you have it figured out? If you need a quick and easy reminder, remember this: People lie down, but chickens lay eggs. And no one should cut their own bangs.

Let’s go back to the quiz at the beginning of this article. 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? Check out our free newsletter Submit Write Nowdelivered right to your e-mail inbox. 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. And here are more grammar tips and advice:

Dear Grammar: It’s Not Me. It’s You. Or Is It I?

When to Use Less vs. Fewer

Principle vs. Principal

Keeping Up With the Dashes

It’s Versus Its

When to Use Affect and Effect

Grammar and Usage Tool Kit

 

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25 Responses to When To Use Lie Or Lay

  1. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

    I “put” me down to sleep?

  2. I believe the origin of our confusion lies in the common children’s prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep, …” People remember “lay down to sleep” and lose track of the object “me” in the line.

  3. Lie lying lay lain. To recline Lay laying laid laid. To put something down Lie lying lied lied. To tell an untruth

  4. I had fun teaching lie (to recline), lay (to put or place something down), and lie (to tell an untruth) to my eighth grade English classes for over thirty years. Sometimes it was difficult to ignore their guffaws or to keep a straight face. I loved every minute I was engaged in teaching grammar!

  5. Also—in regard to being in a reclining position (person, animal or object), the word “laid” is never used, and “lay” is both past and past participle, but not present or present participle. “The book was just lying on the table.” But, “lay the book down for a minute.” And regarding the dog, “Max, go lie down.” Then, “he lay there on the couch all day.”

  6. On the above question about affect vs effect, I have an easy trick.
    Affect Alters something. A
    Effect is the End result. E

  7. To lay is a verbal (verb form), an infinitive. And, of course, it requires an object of the infinitive.

  8. There is an exception to “laying down”. The most famous is: “Now I lay me down to sleep.” So if some wants to say “Lay down,” then they should add “yourself” to it. “Lay yourself down here.”

  9. Once you determine whether to use lie or lay, you must consider the past tense and past participle of each verb. Today I lie, yesterday I lay, many times I have lain. I lay it down, I laid it down, I hve laid it down. Without also considering past forms, an error is still likely.

  10. Hi Nancy,

    Affect: Have an effect on; make a difference to.

    Effect: A change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.

  11. When I was in physical therapy, I would lose patience with my therapist or an x-ray technician, who would repeatedly instruct me to “lay down.” (Lay down WHAT?) I finally couldn’t stand it any longer and corrected and explained. The next time I saw one PT, she said, “I’m afraid to tell you what to do — I know you’re going to yell at me!”

  12. Chickens lay eggs. People lie down.

    My grandfather taught me that when I was 4 years old. I never forgot it. 😊

  13. “Lie down in darkness.”
    “Lay down your arms.”

    No confusion here. And I always tell my dog “Go lie down.”

  14. Go lie down is correct.
    Go lay down is incorrect.
    “To lay” is a transitive verb; it requires an object.
    If we were instructing the dog to deposit his chew toy somewhere, we would use the verb “to lay” — Go lay your chew toy over there.

  15. My confusion is when you tell the dog to “Go lay down.” Seems like it should be “lie” but that seems awkward because one is so used to the sound of the other.

  16. Very useful article, I usually find it difficult to use severe and swear, i just get confused while using these words, hope you can create a good post on that too. Thanks for your efforts!

  17. A lie is an announcement utilized deliberately with the end goal of duplicity. The act of conveying lies is called lying, and a man who imparts a lie might be named a liar. Falsehoods might be utilized to serve an assortment of instrumental, relational, or mental capacities for the people who utilize them. By and large, the expression “lie” conveys a pessimistic implication and relying upon the setting a man who imparts a lie might be liable to social, lawful, religious, or criminal assents.

  18. Lied is the past tense of the “untruthful lie.” That is, the time when you don’t confess all, you lie. When you didn’t confess all, you lied. “Lying” can be used both in the lie setting and in the resting or reclining setting. Usage of “lying” can be sketchy. Guarantee the setting makes it unmistakable.

  19. Lied is the previous tense of the “untruthful lie.” That is, the point at which you don’t come clean, you lie. When you didn’t come clean, you lied. “Lying” can be utilized both in the lie setting and in the resting or leaning back setting. Utilization of “lying” can be questionable. Ensure the setting makes it clear.

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