Lay vs. Lie


The difference between the verbs lay and lie is one of English’s thornier cases of confusion. Both words involve something or someone in a horizontal position, but where the two words deviate has to do with who or what is horizontal—the subject of the verb (the one doing the action) or the direct object (the person or thing being acted upon).

To lay means “to put or place in a horizontal position,” and is a transitive verb, meaning it requires a direct object (e.g. I lay the quilt on the couch. I lay the book on the table). To lie means “to be in a horizontal, recumbent, or prostrate position” and “to rest, remain, be situated, etc.” Lie is an intransitive verb, meaning it does not take a direct object (e.g. I lie on the couch). If you’re the one lying comfortably on your back you want the verb lie, but if you can replace the verb with “place” or “put” (e.g. I place the book on the table) then use the verb lay.

Transitivity is a basic distinction between verbs, and the lay/lie distinction is by no means unique. You’ve probably already mastered when to use rise over raise, or sit instead of set. Lie and lay are no different—the words may be similar, but they are not interchangeable.

Unfortunately, the straightforward answers stop there. Once you move into the past tense it gets trickier. The past tense of lay is laid, but the past tense of lie takes the irregular form lay. So although lay and lie are two different verbs, lie in the past tense looks like lay. The past participle forms of lay and lie (formed with the helping verb “have”) are also distinct: lay maintains its past form laid , but lie takes the new ending lain. To complete the paradigm, the present participle form of lay is laying, and the present participle of lie is lying.

Let’s explore these nuances with a few example sentences:


·    Lie:  The cat hops up on the bed and lies down.

·    Lay: You lay your book down and pet her.


·     Lie:  Last night, you lay awake for hours, unable to go to sleep.

·     Lay:  Last night, you laid all of the ingredients on the kitchen counter for the upcoming feast.

Past participle

·     Lie:  You had just lain down to sleep when a noise jolted you awake.

·     Lay:  The book, which you had laid on the bedside table, had fallen.

Present participle

·     Lie: You are lying on the grass in the park and soaking up the sun.

·     Lay:  Your friend is laying a towel on the grass beside you.

So, how to remember? First, take comfort in the fact that few of us do. But it’s a good idea to know the distinction for formal writing (and to impress your friends with your grammar prowess).

Simple expressions like lay it on me are useful tools to remember that lay always takes a direct object (in this case “it”). And when in doubt, if you can replace the verb with “place” or “put” then the verb you want is lay. As for lie, its homophone lie (as in “to fib”) can actually help, because both forms of lie are intransitive. If you can replace the meaning of lie for the meaning of fib and the sentence is still grammatical, you’re using the correct term (e.g. I lie on the couch is grammatical; I lie the cat next to me is not.)

Do you have any tricks to keep these verbs straight?


  1. Ed Sadowski -  September 4, 2016 - 7:19 am

    This article would have even more helpful had it pointed out the most egregious (and almost exclusively American) error of saying something along the lines of: “I should lay low,” when it should be “I should lie low.”

  2. Gareth -  June 30, 2016 - 3:57 pm

    This I don’t understand. Why must young people say ‘lay down’ to a dog, and a gran/nan can say ‘lie down’ to a dog? It gets on my nerves.

  3. Pete Bogs -  June 28, 2016 - 10:45 am

    The easiest way for me to remember is by the vowel sounds:

    A: Lay is to playce (place)
    I: Lie is to recline

    • Pinky -  October 5, 2016 - 6:06 pm

      What dose A and I mean in ur coment

  4. shrek -  June 27, 2016 - 10:48 am


  5. shrek -  June 27, 2016 - 10:48 am

    You’re wierd

    • maria -  June 27, 2016 - 8:55 pm

      I know you are

  6. John -  June 27, 2016 - 8:10 am

    It isn’t the lay and lie part that confuses me, it is the lie and lie part in that you are lying about lying on a bed.

    • maria -  June 27, 2016 - 8:56 pm

      I am yoda

    • hoopla! -  June 29, 2016 - 12:02 am

      that’s the same with me lie and lie

  7. John -  June 27, 2016 - 7:59 am

    So if someone is asking me what I am doing in my room and I respond with, I am lying on my bed, then they can use that to say that I am not telling the truth because I just told a lie?

  8. Hi -  January 26, 2016 - 5:28 pm

    Look below for more _____ vs _______

    • butt -  June 21, 2016 - 5:49 pm


    • tyson -  June 22, 2016 - 8:07 pm

      suck vs lame\

    • Abidullah Ansari -  June 26, 2016 - 6:22 am

      There ate None

    • John -  June 27, 2016 - 8:00 am

      for more lie’s vs truth

      • Carol -  June 28, 2016 - 11:48 am

        The lies don’t own anything so how about losing the apostrophe? Should be lies vs. truth.

  9. RJ Kimble -  January 5, 2016 - 7:12 am


  10. MARY poppins -  December 5, 2015 - 9:31 am

    chim chiminey chmim chimeney

    • kirby kirby -  December 10, 2015 - 10:48 am


    • hoopla! -  June 29, 2016 - 12:03 am

      wait… are you actually Mary popping cool!

  11. madison hurlbert -  November 30, 2015 - 11:31 am

    Lying is a very bad thing to do because, one time I told a lie and I got in big trouble ( grounded). IDK why parents do that all the time.

  12. Robert Houston -  November 5, 2015 - 8:11 pm

    I always taught my students that the easiest way to remember the lie/lay distinction is, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” vs., “now I lie down to sleep.”

  13. Matt -  November 5, 2015 - 6:28 am

    I don’t know what u just said

  14. Magnus -  November 5, 2015 - 5:21 am

    “Lying [prone] policemen” used to the name for speed bumps in the UK some time back I seem to recall, but it was changed to “Sleeping Policemen” as far as I can remember.

  15. john -  November 5, 2015 - 1:31 am

    please answer to my question

    what does she is making a new single

  16. Daiana -  November 4, 2015 - 8:23 pm

    What is the difference in use between the word PERSON and PERSONS, and between PEOPLE and PEOPLES. I have seen them a hundred of times but I haven’t find out the difference yet.

    • Shadrach G. Thomas -  November 27, 2015 - 12:33 am

      Briefly, the difference between PERSON and PERSONS is that PERSON referred to a single individual,( e.g; The PERSON I love best is my Wife.)

      While PERSONS referred to two or more individuals. ( e.g; Seven (7) PERSONS are expected to grace this occasion from France.)

      In the same way, PEOPLE referred to the same group of PERSONS, ( e.g; the black PEOPLE Congress. Or the PEOPLE of Australia are very kind.)

      Where as PEOPLES referred to two or more distinct groups of PERSONS,(e.g; The Black, White and Browne skin PEOPLES are direct examples of God’s Beauty on earth.)

      • Chris Roberts -  December 6, 2015 - 9:24 pm

        No it’s not, it’s evolution and diversity. Don’t cheapen this world with your fear based, Dark Ages ideologies.

      • Ben -  December 14, 2015 - 5:36 am


      • James -  December 24, 2015 - 11:43 am

        People = A group of individuals, e.g. There were many people at the Christmas party.
        Peoples = A body of persons sharing a common culture, religion or languages e.g. the peoples of the Sahel belt.
        Person = one individual
        Persons = 2 or more individuals.

      • Elliot -  June 22, 2016 - 4:03 am

        Only Americans make this distinction between PERSONS & PEOPLE. In the UK & the rest of the English-speaking world, a group of persons is just called people. The term “peoples” does follow the definition above though.

    • Leira -  January 4, 2016 - 4:49 pm

      Persons isn’t a word,many people get confused and that also includes peoples, persons and peoples are plural

    • Anonymous -  March 21, 2016 - 11:30 am

      same here! i can’t distinguish the difference! i know you can’t say PEOPLES but i’m pretty sure you can say PERSONS which bothers me because if you can say PERSONS why do people ever say people? okay i’m confused it’s too CROWDED here haha he he…bye.

    • stephen schroer -  June 28, 2016 - 8:30 pm

      everyone is wrong.

      persons is the incorrect plural form of person

      Peoples is just plain incorrect because people is the irregular plural form of person. there is no need to add the plural “s”

      I know this bacuse I teach English to foreigners.

      remember this:
      That PERSON is smart
      many of these PEOPLE dont know basic english grammar.

  17. Daiana -  November 4, 2015 - 8:22 pm

    What is the difference in use between the word PERSON and PERSONS, and between PEOPLE and PEOPLES. I have seen it a hundred of times but I haven’t find out the difference yet.

    • Chanocraft -  January 25, 2016 - 10:39 am

      Don’t quote me on this, but i believe the difference goes like this: The US is a people, and North America is 3 different peoples (Canada, US, and Mexico) In other words, when talking about multiple cultures of people, you say peoples.

  18. Lag Master on ROBLOX -  November 4, 2015 - 7:23 am

    Beep boop beep boop beep boop beep boop beep boop (Oh interesting, I’d like to know more about different grammar in future.)


    • ??? -  November 8, 2015 - 3:55 pm


      • erfeasd -  November 23, 2015 - 5:32 am


        • erfeasd -  November 23, 2015 - 5:33 am


        • coollll -  December 1, 2015 - 5:55 am

          hello people

      • coollll -  December 1, 2015 - 5:55 am

        no clue dude

    • Chris Roberts -  December 6, 2015 - 9:25 pm

      Bender, is that you?

    • J Kimble -  January 5, 2016 - 6:56 am

      The future is not promised

    • jadk -  January 8, 2016 - 9:41 am


    • Abidullah Ansari -  June 26, 2016 - 6:17 am

      I love Roblox

  19. Solly -  November 3, 2015 - 4:08 pm

    How about to not tell the truth?

  20. Hannah Roe -  November 3, 2015 - 1:11 am

    “People lie [fib], books lay.”

    When used in the present tense, this little mnemonic has yet to steer me wrong! Of course I apply the people part to animals as well, as opposed to objects (which comes naturally for me since I am a huge animal lover, but maybe not for everyone…)
    It’s by no means perfect since past and past participle tenses do make it more complex, but I have found it helpful on various occasions.

    • Hailey -  November 5, 2015 - 11:30 am

      I don’t understand?

    • Emantsrif Tsaleman -  November 9, 2015 - 1:59 am

      With respect, actually that mnemonic will get you in trouble every time. A book might lay out an argument (though, technically, it’s the writer who uses the book to lay out the argument) but, laying generally requires the agency of an actor capable of carrying out the action of laying. Leaving aside the unfortunate slang connotation, a book gets laid (to lay) and in its supine state it is lying (to lie), leaving aside any aspersions to its veracity.

      “Can you get me the book over there? The one lying (NOT laying) on the table.”

  21. Choose! -  November 2, 2015 - 9:18 pm

    & tasty is the twisted tongue

  22. sal -  November 2, 2015 - 1:08 pm

    This is actually really interesting. My family and I love to discuss grammatical issues and I think more of these pages would be really cool. we are very accurate with our languages and i think these would be really cool if anything else like this shows up. I’m always up for grammar!

  23. Jeanette Masek -  October 30, 2015 - 9:53 am

    Lie intransitively, or lie intransigently? Will we stand for lying?

    • Choose! -  November 2, 2015 - 10:42 pm

      Will will willingly lie for Miss?(cool)Ms.?(cooler)Mrs.?(hottest)….uh…Mr.?(no comment (:-O) ;-) ) Standing…or all of the above…in transit. Will will stand for lying. He kinda has to in his situation. We don’t. Choose.

    • coollll -  December 1, 2015 - 5:57 am

      you dont really have to have your real name

  24. andwhataboutthatone -  October 30, 2015 - 9:23 am

    At a glance, one might consider William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” to be grammatically incorrect, but in context it does use the proper past tense of “lie” in this case, so everything is alright (I know there’s “all right” but I like “alright”, so lay off, or lie off, jk I know it’s the former…. or IS IT?!).

    • J Kimble -  January 5, 2016 - 7:02 am

      As I lay me down to sleep, I hear her calling me.. Hello how you doing ~ West

  25. Wasim Kamran -  October 30, 2015 - 6:27 am

    what is the difference between active and passive voic

    • Hannah -  November 3, 2015 - 2:02 am

      Passive voice utilizes what are considered more like ‘linking verbs’ which are mostly made up of different conjugations of “to be”. Consider: I AM/You ARE/This book IS/She WAS/We WERE-same with present and past participles like: She WAS eating/We WERE studying/ I AM thinking…passive voice isn’t all bad and does have it’s place (especially when just having a conversation with a friend), but what is preferable in most writing (it’s believed to better keep the reader more engaged…) is active voice, in which the verb is… well an action, for lack of better words, instead of the verb just being some vvariation of ‘to be’.
      So instead of writing, ‘she WAS EATING only vegetables for an entire week to lose weight…’ try ‘she DECIDED/VOWED to eat only vegetables blah blah blah’ or instead of ‘This class IS so boring!’ try ‘This class BORES me!”

      One last example…
      Last night…
      ‘She annoyed everyone by talking about him all night, but he disrespected her. He flirted with every single, pretty girl glancing his way.’
      Last night…
      ‘She was annoying and was talking about him all night, but he is a flirt and was being disrespectful by talking to every girl who was pretty and lonely.’

      Not my greatest example, but I hope you can see the difference between the first version- all action verbs (active voice) and the second (in passive voice) with lots of variations of ‘to be’ such as she was, he is, girl was, she and he was…

      Hope this helps : )

      • Bart -  November 3, 2015 - 2:37 pm

        The active and passive voices are not distinguished by helping words per se. Rather, with active voice, the subject is acting upon the object. For example, “The rock broke the window.” The rock acts upon the window. With passive voice, the subject is being acted upon. For example, “The window was broken by the rock.” The window is acted upon by the rock. Hope that helps.

        • coollll -  December 1, 2015 - 5:58 am

          are you Bart Simpson???!!!!

      • wyatt -  November 3, 2015 - 2:46 pm

        how reads that stuff

      • Of Course I Do -  November 8, 2015 - 4:14 pm

        This is not quite right. It’s about acting or being acted upon. “She shot him” vs. “He was shot by her.” “They were pummeled by debris in the storm.” vs. “The storm debris pummeled them.”

  26. your mom -  October 29, 2015 - 6:00 pm

    your mom

    • joe -  November 2, 2015 - 5:28 pm


      • wurd -  November 5, 2015 - 8:45 am


    • coollll -  December 1, 2015 - 5:59 am

      MY MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! REALLY!!!!!!!!!!@#$%

  27. Frederica Gieda -  October 29, 2015 - 6:20 am

    Which is correct? Telling a dog to “go lay down” or “go lie down”?

    • sal -  November 2, 2015 - 1:12 pm

      technically, “go lie down” because you are telling him/her to lie down as you would lie down, but i think most Americans say lay down because of habit and other things that have been passed down through generations of bad grammar.

      • Emantsrif Tsaleman -  November 9, 2015 - 2:33 am

        Your nationality may be clouding your judgment. Brits use the incorrect verb as rampantly as Americans do.

        Perhaps also your age. As a middle-aged American man, I can tell you that the misuse is vastly more common now than it was when I was a young man. Its misuse has, not surprisingly, tracked with the growing ubiquity of the internet, which has accelerated baser language skills generally.

        Without impugning the integrity of anyone, adherence to good grammar has always been more associated with people of better education and those have traditionally been in the minority. The “masses” using the internet likely haven’t experienced an erosion in their language skills individually but, as a population, have demonstrably magnified the spread of incorrect grammar by their connectedness via the internet. Some might view that as unfortunate.

    • Jeanne -  November 2, 2015 - 5:53 pm

      Hens lay, people (and others) lie.

      • sego -  November 6, 2015 - 3:04 pm

        U didnt even bother to read the blog, did you?

  28. danny -  October 29, 2015 - 4:04 am

    nice word fact, English language is so twisty

    • Choose. -  November 2, 2015 - 4:19 pm

      & tasty as the twisted tongue. Go figger.

    • Choose! -  November 2, 2015 - 10:46 pm

      & tasty is the twisted tongue

      • abbykimchi -  January 11, 2016 - 1:44 pm

        English is actually really hard but we were brought up learning the language so it isn’t that bad for us.

  29. Gabriela -  October 28, 2015 - 2:18 pm

    so chasing cars from snow patrol… is NOT grammatical.

    • Yana -  November 3, 2015 - 11:09 pm

      Lol. You’re right.

      • nazareth -  January 13, 2016 - 9:17 am

        hi my people

        • andrea -  March 18, 2016 - 10:17 pm

          I always noticed that because I get the urge to say ‘if I lie here’ instead of ‘if I lay here.’ Though, now, it seems wrong to say ‘lie’ because the song has imprinted the word ‘lay’ in my brain.

        • shrek -  June 27, 2016 - 10:47 am

          you’re wierd


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top