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Grammar Chaos: Not Letting Things Lie—What’s the Difference between Lay and Lie?

For over seven hundred years, many English language speakers have been confused by just at least one pair of words: lie and lay. Not only do these words sound alike, but they also mean similar things. If you still make mistakes when using these two, don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone.


Lay vs Lie

Let’s take a look at meaning first. The common meaning of the word lay is “to place something down in a flat position.” The common meaning of lie is “to be in a flat position on a surface.” Just in the common meaning, we can already see why it’s so easy to mistake one for the other. The difference is in the type of verb.


Lay is transitive, which means it needs an object to function. Look at the examples below.


  1. I want to lay you down in a bed of roses.

  2. I lay the book down once I got to the last chapter.


Lie is intransitive. It means that the verb functions even without an object. Here are some examples.


  1. After going on the roller coaster, Jen felt like she needed to lie down.

  2. You are advised to lie down with your sprained ankle elevated.


Moreover, lay and lie have irregular present, past, and past participle forms that are all different. For lay, it’s lay, laid, and laid, respectively; for lie, it’s lie, lay, lain, respectively.


  The hen lays eggs. The hen laid eggs. Has the hen laid eggs?

  Billy lies down on the cot. Billy lay down on the cot. Has Billy lain down on the cot?


Admittedly, this is not an easy lesson. However, with enough practice, you’ll definitely get the hang of it. The only trick to getting this right is memorizing their tense forms.


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Got more grammar issues? Send us a message! Or you can go through our blog to learn so much more. Stay tuned for more Grammar Chaos!



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