lay or lie?

What Is the Difference between "lay" and "lie"?

homeconfused wordslay or lie?
the quick answer

The Quick Answer

To lay means to place in a horizontal position.

  • He lay his rifle on the floor.
To lie means to be in a horizontal position. (Beware! The past tense is lay.)

  • His rifle lay on the floor.
To lie also means to speak an untruth.

  • I lie for you all the time.

Lay and Lie

There is often confusion over the verbs to lay and to lie.

Lay and Laid

To lay means to put place something in a position, especially a horizontal position.

  • The maids lay the table for dinner at 7 o'clock.
  • Sudan urges rebels to lay down arms.
  • Put your hands up, and lie down your weapons.
  • (should be lay down)
  • In April, our white spotted bamboo shark began to lay eggs.

The past tense is laid:

  • Annabelle laid the puppy in the basket.
  • They laid the body on the bank and notified the coroner.
The past participle is also laid:

  • According to the pamphlet, we should have laid old sheets on the floor to prevent paint splashes landing on the decking.
  • A teenager killed by a shark in northern New South Wales has been laid to rest.

Lie, Lied, Lay and Lain

The verb to lie has two unrelated meanings:

To say something which is untrue in order to deceive.
  • Did you lie about your age to join the Army?
  • Your eyes betray you when you lie.
  • My reflexologist says I am lying about my health.  He says that my feet, however, do not lie.
  • (present participle = lying)
The past tense is lied:
  • Malcolm lied his way past the doormen.
  • Billy lied so often about his boxing achievements, he forgot the truth.
The past participle is also lied:
  • Malcolm had lied his way past the doormen.
To be in, or move into, a horizontal position.

  • I think I'll lie down for 20 minutes after lunch.
  • Lie on your back and look at the stars.
  • Clutching his betting slip, Mr Reynolds screamed, "Get up! Don't just lie there."However, Paul was just lying on his back with one eye on the referee while the count went ahead.
  • (present participle = lying)
  • My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.
  • (As in this example, to lie can simply mean to be.)

The past tense is lay:
  • An alibi? I just lay on the sofa all night, watching The Simpsons.
  • The snow lay on the field all week.

The past participle is lain:
  • Mark had lain at the foot of the knoll for hours.
  • How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home?

A Quick Test

teachers note

A Note from Teacher


Tabulated below are the various forms of lay, lie, and lie:
To lay (to place in a horizontal position)
I lay...
He lays...
He laid... is laying (present)
was laid (past)
To lie (to tell an untruth)
I lie.
He lies.
He lied... is lying (present)
has lied (past)
To lie (to be in a horizontal position)
I lie.
He lies.
He lay... is lying (present)
has lain (past)



The most common mistake is to use lie instead of lay.  If you remember that lie cannot take a direct object, then you will eliminate this error.
  • To lay your head on the pillow.
  • To lie your head on the pillow.
  • (In these examples, your head is the direct object. Remember, lie cannot have a direct object.)
  • My chicken lays eggs.
  • My chicken lies eggs.
  • (In these examples, eggs is the direct object. Remember, lie cannot have a direct object.)


Lay (past tense of to lie) is not common. To many people, laid sounds okay:
  • The crocodile laid still for hours.
  • (should be lay)

Lain is not a common word. To many people, laid sounds correct.
  • The snow had laid on the field all week.
  • (should be lain)

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