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Lie vs. Lay

You will impress your family and friends with your grammar skills if you can distinguish between lie and lay. These words confuse even the best editors, so you pretty much have to memorize a chart and then practice to build your confidence.

Lie vs. Lay Chart

Present

Past

Past Participle
(used with helping verbs such as have)

To recline

lie, lying

lay

has/have/had lain

To put or place

lay, laying

laid

has/have/had laid something

To tell a falsehood

lie, lying

lied

has/have/had lied

Example of to recline in present tense: I lie down for a nap at two o’clock every day.
Same example as above in past tense: I lay down yesterday for a nap.
Same example as above with a participle: I have lain down every day this week.

Example of to put or place something in present tense: I lay the book down.
Same example as above in past tense: I laid the book down.
Same example as above with a participle: I have laid the book down.

Example of to tell a falsehood in present tense: I am tempted to lie about my weight.
Same example as above in past tense: I lied about my weight when I renewed my driver’s license.
Same example as above with a participle: I have lied about my weight each time I have renewed my driver’s license.

Posted on Tuesday, August 1, 2006, at 9:43 pm


24 Comments

24 Responses to “Lie vs. Lay

  1. Theresa says:

    Your information is useful but still does not answer the basic question. Is the book I laid on the table laying or lying. Is the cup I set near the sink setting or sitting? I would most appreciate having this matter clarified.

  2. Jane says:

    The book is lying on the table.
    The cup is sitting near the sink.

  3. Margie Searson says:

    I hear people say, “He was laying on the ground.” He is lying on the ground.” Ï have been lying in the bed all day.” Which or any correct?
    I don’t see much about laying or lying in the grammar books.

  4. Jinx says:

    I lay the tree on the car. The car was lying on top of me. Right?

    • Jane says:

      Yes, both your examples are correct.

      • Joan says:

        Not so fast! “I lay the tree on the car” is present tense. “The car was lying on top of me” is past tense. That is confusing. The pairs are (in my view):

        I lay the tree on the car. The car is lying on top of me.

        I laid the tree on the car. The car was lying on top of me.

        Clear as mud?

        • Jane says:

          I interpreted Jinx’s question as asking whether his two sentences were grammatically correct, not whether his sentences were the same tense.

          We should all note that “I lay the tree on the car,” while grammatically correct, is an odd sentence.

  5. jeff says:

    Sorry, still confused. Which is correct?
    Know where the sandbars lie.
    Know where the sandbars lay.

    • Jane says:

      The verb lie does not take an object. In the present tense, the verb lay does take an object. Examples:

      I will lay the book on the table.
      The book will lie on the table.
      (I, you, we, they) know where the sandbars lie.

  6. Roberta Masecar says:

    You are to place objects, anything that will lie flat, on the paper.

    Is this use of lie, lay, correct?

  7. Geri says:

    Does one say, “He has a sore back. It hurts to lie on but does not wake him up at night.”

    • Jane says:

      The sentence is fine grammatically, but it’s a bit awkward. You might consider rewording to “He has a sore back. It hurts to lie on it, but it does not wake him up at night.” OR
      “He has a sore back. It hurts to lie down, but it does not wake him up at night.”

  8. Mishelle says:

    Which is correct:

    Rusty has decided to lay next to me this evening.

    Rusty has decided to lie next to me this evening.

  9. karin says:

    Therein lies the opportunity.
    Therein lays the opportunity.

    which is correct and why?

    Mahalo:)

    • The verb lie does not take an object. In the present tense, the verb lay does take an object. There is no direct object in your sentence. It is just an inverted sentence. If you turn the sentence around, it reads “The opportunity lies therein.”
      Therein lies the opportunity.

  10. hi says:

    Great explanation! I remember “learning” this in grammar class…
    I was actually checking out some apostrophe stuff, but saw the link and decided to get some things cleared up once and for all!
    Just to make sure I did, is this sentence correct?
    “As I lay in bed sleeping, my mother had laid a glass on the table, but she later lied and said it had lain there since before I fell asleep. Now when I lie down to sleep, I lay the glass somewhere she can’t find it, and lie to her, saying she laid it down and lost it!”

  11. Carol says:

    Is it: I am laying in bed or I am lying in bed?

  12. Elaine says:

    Am i using ‘lie’ correctly here?

    In this simple desire of an orphan lie the deep issues of settlement….

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