Let’s learn about the difference between lay vs lie.
The Different forms of Lay vs Lie:
Although English is one of the most widely used languages in the world, it is complex and hard to learn – especially if it’s not your first language. So, if you’ve ever committed the error of interchanging lie and lay, don’t sweat it; you’re not alone. Here’s a quick guide to understanding the difference between lie and lay.
Lay generally means “to put (something) down.” Lie usually means “to assume a horizontal or resting position” or “to make a false statement.” Learn their verb forms from the table below.
|BASE FORM||PRESENT PARTICIPLE||PAST TENSE||PAST PARTICIPLE|
|lie (to recline)||lying||lay||(have) lain|
|lie (to tell a falsehood)||lying||lied||(have) lied|
|lay (to put)||laying||laid||(have) laid|
The basic forms and present tenses of the verbs lie and lay are pretty easy to spot, so you won’t have a hard time using them correctly in a sentence. An important thing to remember is that lay takes a direct object, while lie does not and is often followed by down. Recall that a direct object tells what or whom the action verb refers to.
How to Use Lay vs Lie in a Sentence:
Present Tense and Present Participle:
Here are example sentences using lie and lay in present tense and present participle.
- The students lay their notebooks on the desk. [lay what? their notebooks is the direct object]
- Before breaking the bad news, the doctors told him to lie down. [no object]
- She is laying the brushes on the table before painting. [present participle: are laying; direct object: the brushes]
- The children are lying on the playground. [lying is the present participle of lie (to recline)]
When talking about reclining or assuming a horizontal position, the past tense of lie is lay. On the other hand, the past tense of the verb lay is laid. See their difference in the following sentences.
- Bob lay very still under the bed while the thieves roamed the house. [lay here is the past tense of lie. Notice that there’s no direct object, too.]
- The worker laid the bricks yesterday. [Laid what? the bricks is the direct object]
Also correct: The worker lays the bricks. [Lays here is the present tense of lay]
Wrong: The worker lay the brick yesterday. [The sentence requires a past tense because of the adverb yesterday. So, it should be laid as in the example above]
Again, when you mean “to recline,” the past participle of lie is (have) lain, not (have) lied. Common mistakes occur when the past tense of lie (to tell a falsehood) is used as the past participle of lie (to recline). In the case of lay, its past participle is not that different from its past tense. Just add the auxiliary verb (have, had, or has) to laid.
Here’s an example of lied and lain usage error.
Wrong: The wounded bear had lied in the forest for days. [Here, lied refers to not telling the truth instead of the intended use which is the act or assuming a resting position. The correct past participle is had lain.]
Correct: The wounded bear had lain in the forest for days. [had lain is the past participle of lie (to recline)]
Related Reading: Which vs That – Introducing Clauses
Here are more examples of sentences using the past participles of lie (to recline) and lay.
- Lay: She had laid the books above the kitchen counter. [Had laid what? the books]
- Lie: Can you believe the protesters have lain there for hours?
NOTE: To better discern whether to use lain or laid, remember that laid requires a direct object. Let the letter d be your cue: laid ends with d and direct object starts with d.
- Lay: Have you laid the posters on my table? [Have laid what? the posters is the direct object]
- Lie: The computer has lain unused for weeks. [no object]
How to Remember the Difference between Lay vs Lie:
To remember the difference between lay vs lie, use these mnemonic devices:
Associate “pLAce” with lay because LAY means to place and it starts with L-A. In contrast, associate “recLIne” with lie because LIE sounds like recLIne’s second syllable, plus they’re synonymous.
Write the correct form of the proper verb (lay vs lie) for each sentence.
- Marissa always ___ down early at night.
- Don’t ___ in the sun without wearing sunscreen.
- Her puppy ___ on the floor on the floor since this morning.
- She remembers ___ the pen on her desk yesterday.
- He ___ the books down before he left.
- Marissa always lies down early at night.
- Don’t lie in the sun without wearing sunscreen.
- Her puppy has been lying on the floor since this morning.
- She remembers laying the pen on her desk yesterday.
- He had laid the books down before he left.
Thank you for reading. We hope it’s effective! Always feel free to revisit this page if you ever have any questions about the difference between lay vs lie.