Lay or Lie?

The distinction between the separate verbs to lay and to lie is disappearing at a rapid rate in popular usage.

However, since many writers, professors, editors, and publishers still feel strongly about maintaining the distinction, it is a good idea to be aware of the differences.

The verb to lay means “to place” or t”o put.” The principal forms are:

Present: lay
Past: laid
Past Participle: [have] laid
Present participle: laying

To lay is a transitive verb. That means that it takes an object. A noun or pronoun always comes after it.

I laid my head on the pillow.
Please lay my keys on the table by the door.
Jenny was laying the table for supper.

The verb to lie means “to repose.” The principal forms are:

Present: lie
Past: lay
Past Participle: [have] lain
Present participle: lying

I am lying on the beach.
Mother lay down after lunch.
She has lain there for an hour.
The soldiers lay in ambush behind the hedge
Lie down, Fido!

The existence of two other verbs, also spelled lie and lay, may add to the confusion.

The verb to lie, “to tell a falsehood” is intransitive. The principal parts are:

Present: lie
Past: lied
Past Participle: [have] lied
Present Participle: lying

Examples of usage:
Don’t lie to me!
The man lied to the police to avoid a fine.
The boys were lying about their whereabouts.

The verb to lay, “to bring forth an egg” can be either transitive or intransitive. The principal parts are:

Present: lay
Past: laid
Past Participle: [have] laid
Present Participle: laying

Examples of usage:
The hen laid an egg.
The hens are laying well this year.

The ability to speak and write standard English in certain settings has social and economic advantages. For example, potential employers or clients who observe the distinction between lay and lie may unconsciously form a negative impression of speakers or writers who do not. Learning the standard differences is probably worth the effort.

For further examples and discussion of lay and lie, you may want to read the following posts I wrote for the DailyWritingTips site:

Lay/Lie: Moribund, but Not Dead Yet
Mixing up lay and lie

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