lie vs. lay  

What is the difference between lie and lay?

This is an especially persistent spelling and grammar issue that causes no shortage of problems for learners and native speakers of English alike.
In the present tense, the word lie is an intransitive verb, meaning it does not require a grammatical object to receive its action. We use this spelling when we want to discuss reclining or resting flat on something, such as a bed, and it is often used with the adverb down. For example:
  • “I think you should lie down for a while.”
  • “I miss being a teenager, when I could just lie in bed all morning on the weekend.”
Lay, meanwhile, is a transitive verb, meaning it does require an object to receive the action. So, if we’re talking about putting something (or someone) down flat on a surface, then we must use lay in the present tense, as in:
  • “Please lay the book down carefully on the desk.” (The book is a direct object being put down, so we use lay.)
  • “Many people lay flowers on the monument on the anniversary of the uprising.” (Flowers is a direct object being put down, so we use lay.)
Where things get really confusing, though, is when we start using these terms in the past tense, because the simple past tense of the word lie is lay (with the past participle lain), while the simple past tense of the word lay is laid (which is also its past participle). For example:
  • “I lay under the tree for a while before heading home.” (past tense of lie)
  • “She laid the book down where she had found it.” (past tense of lay)
  • “We’ve lain here for too long already!” (past participle of lie)
  • “I had already laid the card on the table when she walked into the room.” (past participle of lay)
(It’s also worth noting that lie has another meaning, “to intentionally communicate a nontruth or falsehood,” which has the past tense and past participle form of lied.)
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to remember which word is correct in which context; we just have to commit them to memory.
Quiz

1. Choose the sentence in which lie is the correct spelling.







2. Choose the sentence in which lay is the correct spelling.







3. What is the simple past tense of the word lie when it means “to relax or recline”?





4. What is the simple past tense of the word lay?





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