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  • Writer's pictureMadhumita Chakraborty

Lay vs. Lie (Laying vs. Lying)- Understanding and Applying the Correct Usage!

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Confused about when to use “lay” and when to use “lie”? Don’t worry about it, you are not alone. The English language can be tricky, especially when the words sound similar with different meanings. I have noticed that many people find it difficult and challenging to differentiate lay vs. lie when determining which verb to use in specific situations. This leads to mistakes in both written and spoken english.

lay vs. lie

To shed some light on this linguistic puzzle, let us explore its definition and check into correct contexts in which the lay or lie should be used.

What is the difference between lay and lie?

Before we deep dive, it is essential to understand the fundamental difference between lay and lie.

Lay: This verb requires an object to put or place something or someone down. It is a transitive verb form, which means that it must have an object to act upon. For example, what should I use “lay or lie on the bed”? It would lay on the bed.

Lie: This verb does not require a direct object or means to rest. It is intransitive, which indicates that it does not act upon an object. For example, "I want to lie down and take a nap."

Now that we have a basic understanding of lay vs. lie, let us explore each of the words in more detail.

There is often confusion when it comes to understanding the distinction between laying versus lying, as they represent different actions in relation to positioning oneself or an object.

When to use lay

To lay is to set or otherwise place something in a resting position. Here are some examples to understand when to use lay.

Example 1

The local farm is currently laying chickens for sale on the ground.

Example 2

Before launching the new project, the team spent months laying groundwork.

Example 3

The company had to make some difficult decisions due to financial constraints, including laying employees off to reduce costs.

laying egg hens

When to use lie

On the other hand, “lie” does not require any object or means to recline or rest. Here are some examples to understand when to use lie.

Example 1

Lie on the beach and soak up the sun

Example 2

Lie still during the examination

Example 3

Lie on your back and gaze at the stars

How can I remember the difference between lay and lie?

Understanding or at times remembering the distinctive difference between lay and lie can be challenging but with a little practice you will soon be the master. Here is a useful hint or tip that will help you to remember:

Think of a phrase “how to lay bricks”

The word lay in the phrase signifies an action or putting something and in this phrase someone is putting bricks which is an object.

On the other hand, lying refers to reclining or resting without acting upon anything or anyone. For example: “ I am going to lie down”. In this phrase someone is lying or resting on something and no proper object is mentioned.

A helpful mnemonic to remember lay vs. lie would be (pLAce) versus (recLIne). Here is this table you easily understand the similarities in letters:





By associating these phrases with the correct verbs, mastering the Art of lay vs. lie would be easy. This will help you with your usage of lay and lie over the time.

How can I use lay vs. lie?

Just because you comprehend the definitions of lay and lie does not guarantee that you possess the know-how to employ them accurately. Both lay and lie have different forms for different tenses. Here are few example:

Present tense:

  • I lay the book on the table.

  • I lie on the couch to relax.

Past tense:

  • John laid the groundwork for the project before he left.

  • The mother bird laid three eggs in the nest last week.

Present participle:

  • He is laying the groundwork for his new business venture.

  • She enjoys lying in the hammock on sunny afternoons.

Are there any exceptions or special cases to consider lay vs. lie

While lay or lie generally follow the general guidelines which I have mentioned above in detail. It is important to note that there are very few exceptions and some special cases that might require attention.

Here are some of those exceptions:

1. Distinguish lay vs. lie in past tense: When using the past tense, laid is the correct form of lay, while lay remains the appropriate form for lie. This is confusing as laid and lay sounds similar. For example:

  • The correct usage of lay in past tense is “The book was laid on the table yesterday by me.”

  • The correct usage of lie in past tense is “Yesterday, I lay on the couch to relax.”

2. Distinguish lay vs. lie in present participle: In present participle tense lay becomes laying and lie becomes lying. For example:

  • Correct use of lay in the present participle form is “"He is laying the groundwork for his new business venture."

  • Correct use of lie in the present participle form is "She enjoys lying in the hammock on sunny afternoons."

3. Perplexity arises when dealing with the verb 'lie,' which denotes the act of deceiving: The verb 'lie' can also assume an alternative meaning, indicating the deliberate act of deceiving someone. For example: “She chose to lie about her whereabouts to avoid getting into trouble.”

4. Phrasal verbs involving "lay" and "lie": There are few phrasal verbs that include as a part of their construction. These phrasal verbs have different meanings and should be used according to their need. For example:

  • Lay can be used as Lay off: This phrasal verb indicates to terminate someone's employment. "The company had to lay off several employees due to budget constraints."

  • Lie can be used as “lie down”: This phrasal verb indicates to take rest in a horizontal position. "I have a headache; I'm going to lie down for a while."

These exceptions are some special cases which highlight the nuances of lay vs. lie. To effectively overcome the complexities, it is recommended to consult practice using these verbs in different contexts.

Understanding lay vs. lie is crucial for effective English communication. These words may sound similar but their meaning or its usage are different and require special attention. “Lay” requires an object and denotes action while “lie” does not take an object however it signifies the act of resting in a horizontal position.

To become proficient in using “lay” and “lie” remember to use the mnemonic mentioned above. These mental cues can reinforce the correct usage in your mind.

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