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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


44 Comments

44 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.

    • Jane says:

      Correct: He was lying on the ground. I have been lying in bed all day. I have a full explanation on this page: http://www.grammarbook.com/homonyms/confusing-words-3.asp

    • Ernest says:

      If “he is lying on the ground” how can we be sure whether he is telling falsehoods from this place or merely prone? If “he is laying on the ground” is incorrect grammar, then how does correct grammar help clarify the statement and thus justify our attention to it?

      • Sometimes it is up to the writer to construct the sentence in a way that clarifies the meaning, although you may be one of the only persons in the world who would interpret the meaning of the sentence to be that the person is telling falsehoods on the ground.

  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.

      • Sheree says:

        Why are “things” lying? I thought it would be laying. Is it because there is an object that they are “lying” on?
        thanks.

        • When writing about things rather than people, it is helpful to think of the word lying meaning “resting.” For example, in the sentence “The cards were lying face down,” lying is the correct form of the verb lie, meaning “to recline or rest.” The verb lie does not take an object. The verb lay does take an object, as in the sentence “I was laying the cards face down.” In that sentence, the word cards is an object.

  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.

      • Brennan says:

        I know these comments are old, but nearly every English sentence can be written in a way that is just as clear but avoids these issues.

        I will lay the book on the table.
        I will put the book on the table.
        I will set the book on the table.

        The book will lie on the table.
        The book will be on the table.
        The book will rest on the table.
        You will find the book on the table.

        (I, you, we, they) know where the sandbars lie.
        (I, you, we, they) know where the sandbars are.

        Just trying to eschew obfuscation.

        (Yeah, I know that wasn’t a complete sentence, but conversational English is very adept at leaving the subject implied.)

        • That is an interesting observation, but it is our job to help people learn how to use the confusing words correctly. Although rewording a sentence is an easy fix, it is not always acceptable, especially in an academic situation. We prefer not to avoid certain words just because they are difficult.

  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….

  13. Susan says:

    Is this the correct use of lie?

    “…that deep inside lies the nourishment to get us through the struggle.”

  14. Monique Cawood says:

    My competitive advantage lays in the breadth of experience and diversity in various roles. Is this correct?

  15. Jennifer says:

    So, which is correct?

    Being the inquisitive child that he was, he opened the bag and in it lie a spread of dog-eared sports magazines.

    Being the inquisitive child that he was, he opened the bag and in it laid a spread of dog-eared sports magazines

  16. Wendy B says:

    “Cats used to be in charge of the world but put humans in charge so they could lay around.”
    That seems wrong to me. Should it be “so they could lie around?”
    For some reason I seem to remember that humans lie down, but objects and animals lay down. Now idea where that came from but my mother was a Grammar Nazi, so I’m thinking she is the one who said it. According to what I read now, though, that isn’t correct.

  17. Carolyn Barnett says:

    I lie down. I lay the book down. My cat Zoey lies down. The discussion centered on whether lie or lay is correct for animals. What is correct?

    While I am asking, “on average” and “went missing” both seem wrong. Is it just my age?

  18. JJ says:

    My impulse is to say “This is where their priorities lie.” but if I’m interpreting your chart correctly, it should say “This is where their priorities lay.”, which sounds awkward to me. Which is the correct use for an abstract such as “priorities”?

  19. Amita Johnsy says:

    The idea to start a poetry website was laid upon by my brother. Is it correct??

    • This is an unusual usage of lay/lie and selecting the correct tense is not likely to help this sentence much. Were you thinking of “stumbled upon”? Other alternatives could be:

      The idea to start a poetry website was initiated by my brother.
      My brother had the idea to start a poetry website.

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