Lay and Lie image

Lay and lie are often confused, but they do have different meanings and uses. Lay means to put or set something down, while lie means to assume rest in a horizontal position.

Writers, even experienced ones, commonly conflate these two verbs. This post will help you make sure you don’t make this mistake.

Lay and Lie: the Differences

The key thing to remember is that you lie down, but you lay something down. The word “lay” requires a direct object, while “lie” does not.

How to Use “Lay”

The verb “lay” means “to put or set down.” The past tense form of “lay” is “laid.” The word lay requires a direct object; that is, the object receives the action of the verb:

  • You can lay the book on the table. (The direct object is “book.”)
  • The woman laid the baby down. (The direct object is “baby.”)

How to Use “Lie”

The verb “lie” means “to be or stay at rest in a horizontal position” or “to assume a horizontal position.” “Lie” doesn’t require a direct object; in this case, the subject performs the action of the verb:

  • I am going to lie on the sofa. (The subject is “I”; I lie.)
  • He often lies on his back in the grass and looks up at the sky. (The subject is “he”; he lies.)
  • She is lying on the bed. (The subject is “she” and the gerund (-ing) form of lie is “lying”; she is lying.)

To make things extra confusing, however, the past tense of “lie” is “lay.”

  • I lay down on the sofa.
  • He lay on his back in the grass and looked up at the sky.
  • She lay on the bed.

To remember this, try putting any past-tense sentence in present tense first to figure out whether to use “lay” or “lie” as your base verb. Then, put the sentence in past tense, using “laid” or “lay” accordingly.

An Easy Trick to Remember “Lay” vs. “Lie”

Don’t let their similarities fool you: “Lay” and “lie” are not the same. Here’s an easy trick to help you remember when to use which one:

  • “Lay” means “to put or set down” or, simplified, to place. LAy and pLAce share the same “la” sound.
  • “Lie” means “to assume a horizontal position”—to recline. LIe and recLIne share the same “li” sound.

With this easy mnemonic, you’ll never forget the difference again.

How do you remember the difference between “lay” and “lie”? Tell us in the comments.

For more ways to improve your writing skills, check out these posts:

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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.

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