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lie, lay

Because the past tense of lie is the same as the present tense of lay, many English speakers confuse these two verbs.

To choose the correct verb, remember the guidelines below.

Lie

Lie (past tense lay) means to be in a horizontal or flat position. It does not take a direct object.

  • Let’s lie in the shade of these trees.
  • Hannibal’s men lay beside the elephants for warmth.
  • The injured man had lain in the ditch for hours
  • The new carpet is lying on the deck.

Note: It is a common error to use lay in place of lie:

  • INCORRECT: Let’s lay in the shade of these trees.
  • INCORRECT: The new carpet is laying on the deck.

Lay

Lay (past tense laid) means to put something down or to place an item on a surface. It always takes a direct object.

  • The contractor will lay the foundations for the apartment building next week.
  • She laid the book on its side.
  • Petra and Morgan had been laying carpet all day.

Tip

If the verbs put or place can be logically used instead, choose the verb lay (laid, laying). Otherwise, choose the verb lie.

  • Please lay the mail on the table. [= Please put the mail on the table.]
  • She is lying (not laying) down. [We can’t say "She is putting down" without an object after it.]