Lie vs. Lay: Grammar Guide

When do you use "lie" and when do you use "lay"?

Lie and lay are commonly misused. My father-in-law, a high school English teacher, finally taught me the correct usage, and I think I have finally got it.

Lie is to recline. Lay is to put or place, and the verb is always followed by an object. One easy way to remember is, you lie in the sun and a chicken lays an egg. Where it gets tricky is in the past and past participle (the form of have) tenses.

Lay-to put or place

  • The present tense of lay (to put or place) is lay or laying. I am laying the book on the table. I lay the book on the table.

  • The past tense of lay (to put or place) is laid. Yesterday, I laid the book on the table.

  • The past participle tense (have, has, had) of lay (to put or place) is also laid. I have laid the book on the table. She has laid the book on the table. She had laid the book on the table.

lay, laid, laid

Lie-to recline

  • The present tense of lie (to recline) is lie or lying. I am lying on the bed. I lie on the bed.

  • The past tense of lie (to recline) is lay. Yesterday, I lay on the bed.

  • The past participle tense (have, has, had) of lie (to recline) is lain. I have lain on the bed for many hours. She has lain on the bed for many hours. She had lain on the bed for many hours.

lie, lay, lain

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58 comments

Robin profile image

Robin 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Justin,

Here's the correct sentence: How many chairs are lying here? Thanks for the question! ;)


justin 3 years ago

whichone is right -how many chairs are laying here? or how many chairs

are lying here?


ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 4 years ago from Lagos

Great work. It was very helpful


Jay Dillon profile image

Jay Dillon 5 years ago from Hancock, Maine

wajay_47 wrote above: "To lie is something you do to yourself! To lay is something you do to something else (an object)!" This statement overlooks the fact that one can lie to oneself, but one can also lie to others. (I.e., one can state an untruth to oneself, and also to others.) Then also, you can lay yourself down, if you temporarily think of yourself as an object as you do so. You can also lie down. The British say, "I think I'll have a lie-down." However, never go the way of not pronouncing your "r"s... I think that's wrong. On another matter, have people been miffed about the way newscasters have been routinely deleting the "helper verbs" from their broadcasts? This has been bothering me more and more lately. For example, someone might say on television: "Obama today playing golf in Atlanta with several of his constituents. The president traveling tomorrow to Florida. In other news, the weather bad in the Northeast today, as thousands left without power by weekend storms."


Guest 5 years ago

I enjoyed reading all the comments!


Bong Santos 5 years ago

Now, please tell me. Is it lie low or lay low? Many thanks in advance.


Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi, Amanda! The correct usage is: The book was lying on the table when I saw it last. In fact, it had lain there all day. Cheers!


Amanda Gorin 5 years ago

The book was (laying/lying) on the table when I saw it last. In fact, it had (laid/lain/laid) there all day.

Which is it?


Guest 5 years ago

Thanks a lot for the info.

It helped me lots.


Julie 5 years ago

So I can best remember it this way: things LAY and people LIE.


Aaron 5 years ago

Laid is the past tense and past participle of lay. Lay and lain in the past tense and past participle of lie, respectively. What matters is whether your verb is transitive or intransitive as to which one you use.


angelina angela 5 years ago

so, if a man will lie you down on a bed you will say to someone 'he laid me down on a bed' or 'he lie me down on a bed' they sound all fine to me, even lain and lay.

thank you.


Pat  5 years ago

Thanks for clearing this up, it is one of my biggest pet peeves in grammer...so many people get this wrong!


David 5 years ago

most f'ed up thing ever. words with more than one meaning. lie = to tell a lie. lie on the bed. WTF is that? Its stupid. There are reasons why we have different words for things. So this doesn't happen. A book is at rest. It is laying on the desk. That makes more sense. LOL at "Yesterday, I lay on the bed" - so stupid


Bella 5 years ago

Thank you for this imformative hub. It helped for settling a dispute between me and a friend of mine. ^-^

It appears I have nothing better to do than be a stickler for grammar while I'm up late with insomnia. Hahaha


Ro 6 years ago

thanks a lot for the explanations :)


Adam 6 years ago

would it be correct to say "this is where my talents lie or this is where my talents lay"?


CJ 6 years ago

If you are learning English as a second language, don't feel bad if lie vs lay gives you a headache. I would estimate less than 10% of native English speakers get this one right 100% of the time.


Donna 6 years ago

Robin thank you for all your help with lie and lay. StuartJ I hear you but I will not be quiet and stop without a fight.

In my opinion the battle to join is "the use of between and among". The media uses between incorrectly all the time. It seems that TV and film are allergic to the word among. Between is used for two and among for more than two. Even the French with their equivalent "entre" and "parmi" are making the same mistakes. This is a global condition and needs immediate attention.


Buddy 6 years ago

Which is correct: "Here lies the tools" or "Here lay the tools."


Vanessa 6 years ago

This is probably the clearest explanation of lie vs. lay I've ever come across. Thank you.


moon 7 years ago

I think I want to let go of the"lay lie lied laid lain" thing. "I laid in bed" sounds nicer. I like it when Tao Lin writes that, and Ellen Kennedy, in their books. I plan to do that. I like "laid."

Also, Ms sounds nicer than Mrs and Miss. I think language reflects us...


StuartJ profile image

StuartJ 7 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

Ralph, I have heard of this distinction you mention between "healthful" and "healthy", but I really think that one is a tad pedantic. The proportion of the population that has even heard of that one, let alone adheres to it, must be very very small indeed. Of course, some will say that "correctness" is not determined by usage, but I disagree. If language didn't change we'd all be talking and writing the same way as Chaucer did. The issue is how to maintain a healthy balance between extreme prescriptivision, which ignores the relevance of usage altogether; and extreme descriptivism, which can lead to an "anything goes" attitude. There has got to be (or should I leave the "got" out or write "there must be") a happy medium.


StuartJ profile image

StuartJ 7 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

Personally, I use lay and lie as Robin describes them; but I hear and see "lay" used so often these days where "lie" would once have been mandatory that I wonder if the battle to maintain this distinction may not already be lost. (I realise that my semi-colon in that sentence may be questionable too.)

A lot of the latest dictionaries are now giving infer and imply as synonyms and so the battle to maintain that distinction may be over too.


NeilBJ 7 years ago

Regarding "Herein lays the problem."

I changed the order of the words to "The problem lays herein." The Microsoft Grammar Checker flagged this as incorrect and said the word should be "lies".


NeilBj 7 years ago

The following usage is an ingrained speaking and writing habit that probably will never be changed, but I will object to it anyway. I recall finding the Book of Mormon (written in early 19th century) in my dentist's office, and I happened to discover the phrase "have got" on the page I turned to. I just did a search on-line and found many "have gots" in the text, e.g., "We have got a Bible..."

My point is that this phrase has been used a suprisingly long time.

Is: I think I have finally got it.

Should be: I think I finally have it.

Is: Have you got

Should be: Do you have

Is: I've got

Should be: I have

I got it yesterday.

I have it today.


NeilBJ 7 years ago

I just ran across the following sentence in an article.

"Herein lays the problem."

My Microsoft Grammar Checker accepted this as correct, and rejected the sentence when I substituted "lies".

I would have used "lies" in the sentence in the sense that here is where the problem rests. Am I correct or is the Microsoft Grammar Checker correct?

Another usage that I always question is this one.

Is it the "lie of the land" or is it the "lay of the land"? I would write the "lie of the land".


Ophelia 7 years ago

Thanks for the tips on lie and lay. I'm a grammar freak and always correcting family and friends. My husband is most conscious when he's speaking around me. The bad part is when I'm at church and hear the preacher misuse words or incorrectly use words. It's like all my attenneas go up. Worse of all, I sometimes laugh before I correct them. Only friends and family, of course. on last thing, I often hear people misuse "at".


Peg 7 years ago

I am a retired teacher who is now substitute teaching in the elementary. When I sub for Kindergarten, the students lie down to take a nap. They try to correct me when I instruct them to "lie down on your mats". I think they are probably used to hearing "lay down". I began to wonder if I was incorrect myself. That is why I logged on to this site. Thanks!


GRAMMARQUEEN 8 years ago

In France we have a different system for lay versus lie. Technically, yours is incorrect. A for effort................................................................................NAH JK JK


Deanna Fortner 8 years ago

These all helps me, but what if I'm going to tell a patient I'm going to lie you down, as in put the head of a stretcher down. Lay or Lie?  


LMA Freelance profile image

LMA Freelance 8 years ago

Wow, you guys. I'm feeling so much better about being a grammar nerd now that I've read your comments. I'm new to Hubpages.com, but I can tell already that I'm going to love it here.

On the "lie" vs. "lay" issue, it's funny around our house when someone says, "I'm going to go lay down," because the other will say, "Well then you'd better clean it all up when you're finished!"


Robin profile image

Robin 8 years ago from San Francisco Author

Michael,

1. Your first sentence is correct except the correct word is "disdain" not "distain."

2. Your second sentence is incorrect. The correct sentence would be, "When the supervisor entered the room, he noticed that the book way lying on the table." To lay something would be to put or place it, but if it is already on the table than lie is the correct verb.

Hope that helps!


Michael Hancher 8 years ago

Can someone answer a question for me? Are the following sentences correct with regards to use of the words who/whoever vs whom/whomever. If so, why and if not why.

1. The general regarded whomever the colonel honored with distain.

2. When the supervisor entered the room, he noticed that the book way laying on the table.

Michael Hancher

hanchermichael@yahoo.com


TDF 9 years ago

So, to paraphrase one of the other posts, does the fault LIE with Bob Dylan, or does the fault LAY with Bob Dylan? I am thinking that it is correct to say that the fault LIES with someone because it seems that the intransitive verb is correct -- the fault is just there with the person. However, I believe that I often see the improper usage -- the faults lays with someone. Now, one could LAY the BLAME with Bob Dylan. :-)


Fran  9 years ago

actually this is very easy to remember if you keep in mind what Robin says---chicken lay eggs and people lie down. People don't "lay" down because if so, where's the egg??

It is very simple. I have heard this error so frequestly that I have been wondering if the incorrect use of these words has now become acceptable and standard?


aurateas profile image

aurateas 9 years ago from Vancouver

Hi Robin, thanks for you posting! I'm not native English speaker, and your post about grammer really help a lot. I am all dumb when writing my blog in English, do you have any suggestion website that I can imporve my English writing (and speaking)? Thank you!


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

AJ,

Yes, you are correct. "I lie on my back and let the waves carry me for awhile...." Thanks for the comment!


AJ 9 years ago

Hi Robin - Regarding lay v. lie, is this correct?

...its beautiful red orb was just beginning to touch the horizon. I lie on my back and let the waves carry me for awhile,,,


Bob Dylan fan 9 years ago

So is it all Bob Dylan's fault that people confuse lay & lie? "Lay, Lady, lay; lay across my big brass bed." Should he have said "Lay yourself acorss my big brass bed" to maintain the transitive place function of lay? He's certainly not using it in the past tense and though it sounds like a command of sorts, he's not saying 'lie', either. Clearly 'lay' worked better for rhyming purposes and thus has poetic license, but I wonder how much of the confusion is the fault of the song? 


onlinetrainer 9 years ago

Hi Robin, can you help with the correct use of in-person vs. in person? I did a search on google and this hub came up...so, I thought I'd ask a professional in the area of the English language. Thank you, :)


Prince Kaywood 9 years ago

What about the problem lies in the manner in which their plan was created?


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Jenn ma, the children's prayer is correct because there is an object, "me", in the sentence.  The sentence could be reworded, Now I lay Jimmy down to sleep" and it would be correct, or "Now I lie down to sleep."  The second sentence has no object, so we use the word "lie".  Hope that helps.  See comment number 14 for a bit more clarification.  Cheers and Happy New Year!  Robin


jenn ma 9 years ago

Then what about the children's prayer:  Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Yes, it's confusing. Another way to think of it: transitive verbs need an object and intransitive verbs do not. When we say, "Now I lay me down to sleep," the object is "me". When you say, "I am going to lie down," there is no object. It is the same with raise and rise. I wrote a hub on this commonly confused pair, too.

https://letterpile.com/writing/Grammar_Mishaps__Ra...

Thanks! Hope you had a good rest. ;)


Bill Rust 10 years ago

Thanks Robin for your reply, It is hard for me to get away from the fact, lay is a transitive verb, and even though you are doing it to yourself, ie., I lay myself down it is an action. But I stand corrected, and it is just another step in my learning curve. I think I had better lie down now.

Again, Thanks, Bill


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Bill, Thanks for the question. You would say to your wife, "I am going to lie down." You are doing the action to yourself. However, let's say you were carrying your wife to bed. You would say, "I will lay my wife on the bed." You are placing her on the bed; she is not doing the action herself.

The confusing part is in the past tense. The past tense of "lie" is "lay". So you would say, "Today, I will lie on the bed; Yesterday, I lay on the bed." This is a tricky one, but worth getting right. It gets really fun with the past participle: the form of have. "I have lain on the bed for three hours." Hope this helps and doesn't cause more confusion. ;)


Bill Rust 10 years ago

As I head toward my bedroom do I say to my wife "I am going to lay down" or " I am going to lie down."

Much argument in my writing class.

Many Thanks in advance


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Great way of saying it. Thanks! Robin


wajay_47 10 years ago

Great hub, Robin! To lie is something you do to yourself! To lay is something you do to something else (an object)! Thanks, Robin.


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Great question, Jack. Lie and lay can both be used with commands. Lay down would be used if you were commanding someone to lay (put or place) an object down. For example: Lay down your gun; or lay the baby down in its crib. If you are talking to your dog, you would say, "Lie down." Your dog is lying down on his own; you are not physically doing the action of laying him down. I hope this helps; if not, let me know and I'll try again. ;)


Jack 10 years ago

In a command:

"Lie down" or "lay down" which is correct?


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

I agree. I love hearing responses. I need to make a point of leaving more responses for other hubs that have an impact. I am impressed with your photograph hubs. You have a lot of talent and patience to capture the right shot. I hope that hubpages becomes a place where meaningful hubs and responses flourish.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 10 years ago

I've been participating in another forum for nearly 10 years and have met three participants in person. Beyond that a rather close community has developed which gives many of us the feeling that the other participants are our friends (and some friendly enemies). It would be good if this deveolped among "Hubbies." When you spend some time to put a hub together with what appears to you to have some interesting or useful content, your effort is validated if you get a response or two from someone else. Page views without comments aren't very meaningful, in my opinion.


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Ralph! Another grammar "stickler" as Lynne Truss calls those who are aware of the grammatical mistakes around them. You should write a few grammar hubs too. Great additions to this hub, thanks! Robin


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 10 years ago

I hear a lot of people using lay when they should be using lie.

How about the distinction betwee healthy and healthfu. As in healthful foods and vegetables. I was taught people are healthy and exercise or food is healthful.

Another one that bugs me is the usage of comprise interchangeably with compose. Or using comprise when compose is correcter :-). As in the collection was comprised of old coins from around the world when composed should have been used according to my high school English teacher.

Corredt usage: Coins from all over the world comprise the collection.

Correct usage: The collection is composed of coins from all over the world.

Incorrect usage: The collection is comprised of coins from all over the world.

Many people are having similar confusion over imply and infer, as in "He inferred that he was leaving soon but didn't say so specifically."


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Perhaps, lain is an odd word as well. I guess we'll just have to wait and see! Thanks for the comment!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 10 years ago from San Francisco

100% correct, but "lay" as the past tense of lie *still* sounds strange to me, even though I know it's correct. My guess is that within another generation, it'll "officially" change to laid.

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