Grammar-ease: Lay versus Lie

I haven’t had a grammar post in a while, so here’s a new one!

A particularly challenging one for many people, the conundrum of lay versus lie. 

Lay is an active verb. A person picks up a book and lays it on a chair. A chicken lays an egg. (The person and chicken are active.)

Lie is a still verb. People lie on beds. Cats lie on people. Fleas lie on cats. (The people, cats, and fleas are still.)

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Lay: to place or set something.

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive (action continues for a while)
Present I layYou layHe/she/it laysThey lay I am layingYou are layingShe is layingThey are laying I have laidYou have laidShe has laidThey have laid I have been layingYou have been layingShe has been layingThey have been laying
Past I laidYou laidShe laidThey laid I was layingYou were layingShe was layingThey were laying I had laidYou had laidShe had laidThey had laid I had been layingYou had been layingShe had been layingThey had been laying
Future I will layYou will layShe will layThey will lay I will be layingYou will be layingShe will be layingThey will be laying I will have laidYou will have laidShe will have laidThey will have laid I will have been layingYou will have been layingShe will have been layingThey will have been laying

——————————————————————————————-

Lie: to recline or repose somewhere.

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive (action continues for a while)
Present I lieYou lieHe/she/it liesThey lie I am lyingYou are lyingShe is lyingThey are lying I have lainYou have lainShe has lainThey have lain I have been lyingYou have been lyingShe has been lyingThey have been lying
Past I layYou layShe layThey lay I was lyingYou were lyingShe was lyingThey were lying I had lainYou had lainShe had lainThey had lain I had been lyingYou had been lyingShe had been lyingThey had been lying
Future I will lieYou will lieShe will lieThey will lie I will be lyingYou will be lyingShe will be lyingThey will be lying I will have lainYou will have lainShe will have lainThey will have lain I will have been lyingYou will have been lyingShe will have been lyingThey will have been lying

Here are some great tips to help remember the differences, from Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D.:

  • Think of to lay the same way as to say and to pay. We say (today)  “I pay”, “I say,” (yesterday) “I paid”, “I said,” and “I have paid,” “I have said.” To lay works the same way: lay, laid, laid.
  • Substitute the word place or put. If the sentence sounds right, you want lay; otherwise, you want lie. Is this okay?: You place the book on the table. Yes. Therefore, You lay the book on the table. How about this: You place in your bed at night. No. Therefore, You lie in your bed at night.
  • My favorite: No one ever says that chickens lie eggs. Chickens are active and lay eggs, so visualize the action when you are writing about how you lay out a rug, or lay down your book.
  • Lie is a quiet or still word. A fun ditty from the book: At night, I turn out my light and lie. (I’m going to lie down for a nap.) Whether it’s on a couch, beach blanket, or bed, if you are quietly reclining, you’re lying (not laying).

What do you think? Helpful?

If you have grammar topics you’d like to see covered, please leave a comment to let me know.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer, editor, journalist, and chocolate lover. She loves working with words and helps businesses with theirs. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on LinkedInBiznikFacebook, and Twitter

21 thoughts on “Grammar-ease: Lay versus Lie

  1. Thanks for this! This is the one that I always struggle with, no matter how many grammar lessons I read. It just doesn’t stick. I think the “place/put” trick might help me out; I’ll have to remember it!

  2. I think this rule demands a ditty be written. Sort of like the ditty about how many days each month has:

    Thirty days hath September,
    April, June, and November.
    All the rest have thirty-one,
    Excepting February alone,
    And that has twenty-eight days clear,
    And twenty-nine in each leap year.

    Now I’m going to have a hard time laying my pen down…LOL…without picturing chickens!

    Thanks Lisa!

  3. Pingback: Grammar-ease: Then versus than | Live to Write - Write to Live

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