Grammar-ease: Lying vs Laying (Lie vs Lay)

Using lay versus lie has come up quite a bit, so here’s a re-do of my 2013 post on these tricky words.

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.)


Lay: to place or set something

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive (action continues for a while)
Present I lay

You lay

He/she/it lays

They lay

I am laying

You are laying

She is laying

They are laying

I have laid

You have laid

She has laid

They have laid

I have been laying

You have been laying

She has been laying

They have been laying

Past I laid

You laid

She laid

They laid

I was laying

You were laying

She was laying

They were laying

I had laid

You had laid

She had laid

They had laid

I had been laying

You had been laying

She had been laying

They had been laying

Future I will lay

You will lay

She will lay

They will lay

I will be laying

You will be laying

She will be laying

They will be laying

I will have laid

You will have laid

She will have laid

They will have laid

I will have been laying

You will have been laying

She will have been laying

They will have been laying


Lie: to recline or repose somewhere.

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive (action continues for a while)
Present I lie

You lie

He/she/it lies

They lie

I am lying

You are lying

She is lying

They are lying

I have lain

You have lain

She has lain

They have lain

I have been lying

You have been lying

She has been lying

They have been lying

Past I lay

You lay

She lay

They lay

I was lying

You were lying

She was lying

They were lying

I had lain

You had lain

She had lain

They had lain

I had been lying

You had been lying

She had been lying

They had been lying

Future I will lie

You will lie

She will lie

They will lie

I will be lying

You will be lying

She will be lying

They will be lying

I will have lain

You will have lain

She will have lain

They will have lain

I will have been lying

You will have been lying

She will have been lying

They 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. If talking about today, we say,  “I pay”, “I say.” If it’s about yesterday, we say, “I paid”, “I said”, “I have paid”, “I have said.” To lay works the same way: lay, laid, laid.
  • Substitute the word place or put. If the sentence makes sense, you want lay; otherwise, you want lie.
    • Example 1: You place the book on the table. It makes sense. Therefore, You lay the book on the table.
    • Example 2: You place in your bed at night. It doesn’t make sense. 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 example 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).

I still find myself challenged with this pairing at times and need to look back at these notes — if I can’t think of any other words to use in their place.

I hope you have a great week!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.