When To Use Lie Or Lay

by | Mar 5, 2008 | Grammar and Usage, Proofreading | 34 comments

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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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34 Comments

  1. Boon

    Thank you for the explanation!

    Reply
  2. 24 H Write My Essay

    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.

    Reply
  3. marketing assignment uk

    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.

    Reply
  4. marketing assignment uk

    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.

    Reply
  5. Diy

    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!

    Reply
    • Mary Preston

      No one (singular) should cut their (plural) own hair. Incorrect

      No one (singular) should cut his or her (singular) own hair. Correct

      Reply
      • Blog Editor

        Hi Mary,

        Per Merriam-Webster dictionary:

        A.
        —used with a singular indefinite pronoun antecedent
        “No one has to go if they don’t want to.”
        “Everyone knew where they stood.”

        B.
        —used with a singular antecedent to refer to an unknown or unspecified person
        “An employee with a grievance can file a complaint if they need to.”
        “The person who answered the phone said they didn’t know where she was.”

        C.
        —used to refer to a single person whose gender is intentionally not revealed
        “A student was found with a knife and a BB gun in their backpack Monday, district spokeswoman Renee Murphy confirmed.”

        D.
        —used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary
        ALSO: His or her —used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent
        “Anyone in their senses.”

        Reply
      • Rickie Baxter

        Yes, but the his/her solution is really becoming less frequently used. Their as a singular/plural is used more frequently. Of course, in terms traditional usage the his/her combination is more “correct.” But some critics point out that our language is constantly changing, and using “their” for both singular or plural is just one example of change.

        Reply
  6. Vanesa

    Enjoyed reading this amazing thread!

    Reply
  7. Carol

    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.

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      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.

      Reply
  8. Mary Ellen

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

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

    Reply
  9. Queenie

    Chickens lay eggs. People lie down.

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

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth Gillett

    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!”

    Reply
  11. Nancy

    Now about affect & effect?

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      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.

      Reply
  12. Gramma Natcy

    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.

    Reply
  13. Kathy Waller

    And if you ever see an old dog laying on the porch, please call me. I’ve never seen a dog egg.

    Reply
  14. KL Todd

    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.”

    Reply
  15. Ivanov Reyez

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

    Reply
  16. Danielle Boardman

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

    Reply
  17. Loy

    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.”

    Reply
  18. Michele O’Leary

    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!

    Reply
  19. Michele O’Leary

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

    Reply
  20. Angela Mailander

    It’s simple: she lies on the bed, but you laid her.

    Reply
  21. Maggie

    Simple, you lie down to get laid. Used this with my classes and they never got it wrong again.

    Reply
  22. Danielle Boardman

    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.

    Reply
  23. Pubilius

    “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?

    Reply
  24. Sally Noble

    “Now I lay me down to sleep” is correct because “I” is the subject and “me” is the object. This prayer has confused us for years. I lie down. I lay me down. Both are correct. The second fit the meter and rhyme of this children’s prayer.

    Reply
  25. Joanne Marks

    Good information told in an entertaining way. Thank you. 😸👌

    Reply
  26. Mary Ann Sniff

    When you recline in pain,
    You lie, lay, lain.
    When you place that spade,
    You lay, laid, laid.

    Reply
  27. Mike Kettel

    I am still confused. I was taught in school that a person can lie down, but an animal lays down. This was many, many years ago. Which is correct now?

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      The information in the article is correct.

      Reply
  28. Carole

    To lie down—to rest or recline.

    To lay down—-to put or place

    A person lies dow to take a nap. He lays his book on the table.

    Reply

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