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Grammar Mishaps: lie vs. lay, lain, laid,

Updated on May 15, 2012

usage and definition

Using the correct forms of the verbs "to lay" and “to lie” is very confusing. They are so often misused, even in published works, it’s always best to refresh yourself with the subtleties of these two intertwined verbs.

These are two overlapping verbs we are dealing with: two verbs that have been used intransitively at least as far back as the 14th century.

The verb “to lie” (not the definition involving deception) is a verb that acts upon the subject (as in ‘I lie in wait for you’). Its other forms are: lay, lain, and lying.

The verb “to lay” acts upon an object (as in ‘I lay the books down on the table.” Its other forms include laid and laying.

The really confusing part is, they overlap in two different ways. Firstly, the verb ‘to lay’ can be used on the actor of the sentence, much as wash usually acts upon an object, you can alsowash yourself. Secondly, the past tense of the verb to lie is lay, an oddity that really confuses you.

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But you didn’t really need to know that, did you? You simply want to know which word fits into your sentence correctly. I understand.

Shut up and tell me which one to use!

Here are some easy examples that are sure to help you. I won’t bother with labels such as ‘past imperfect’; the context of the sentences make their tense obvious. Under ‘to lay’ I threw in the confusing examples where the subject is also the object (myself).

To lie:

I want to lie down now. I lie in wait for you [now].

I'm lying in a soft bed of moss as I type this.

I will lie down later.

I lay down before, but it wasn’t for long enough to say I napped.

I have lain down before; in fact I have done so every night of my life.

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To lay:

See me lay my gun on the table now? I lay myself on the bed now.

I'm laying the gun down as I speak, so don't shoot.

I will lay my gun on the table if you don’t shoot me.

I laid my gun on the table an hour ago, so calm down, please. I laid myself on the bed last night.

I have laid the gun on the table an hour ago, just as I have promised. I have laid myself down on the bed in the past.


Note: The usage of 'lay' with sexual connotations describes a person laying another person down onto a bed. To 'get laid' isn't literally a course phrase; it literally means getting someone to lay you down onto a bed.

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    • profile image

      asad 4 years ago

      good wow

    • profile image

      rockthecasbahh 5 years ago

      i used this article as reference for a test graded question, and carefully referring to the article, using exactly what it told me, i got the question wrong. this was not helpful for me, and I'm especially upset that my previous score before this final question on the test had been perfect until now. By sharing this, it was not to critique the author, because this may be helpful to other readers. My only intention was to provide feedback on how it affected me. hopefully the rest of your experiences will not be so negative. :0

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      C.E. 5 years ago

      I didn't quite get the one saying. "I lay down before." I guess it's because people "lie" and we "lay" things.

    • profile image

      gy 5 years ago

      3t5e

    • profile image

      John Pedant 5 years ago

      "To 'get laid' isn't literally a course phrase."

      Of course not. The question, however, is whether it is a COARSE phrase.

    • profile image

      Elvis 5 years ago

      Hey author my author got a duller

    • profile image

      canmisen 5 years ago

      Did you mean "coarse" phrase (referring to "getting laid")?

    • profile image

      luvgrammer 6 years ago

      im kinda confused on whether to use lain or laid

      thanks anyway!

    • profile image

      Christy 6 years ago

      This is how I remember it: lie - recline (lie down)....lay - place (lay it on the table.

    • profile image

      Luke 6 years ago

      Excellent hub article, thank you! So clear and precise and I love all the exampels provided.

    • profile image

      whitney 7 years ago

      I just want to know when do I use the word lain

    • profile image

      Bill 7 years ago

      Thanks for the tips! So I was correct and MS Word was wrong...but then, maybe I need to restructure my setence?

    • profile image

      elise 7 years ago

      I found this sentence online today:

      "She was so tired she just wanted to lay in bed."

      Should it be lie?

    • profile image

      jordan 7 years ago

      so you do all these sentences with subject but none with object.

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