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“Laying” vs. “Lying” (“Lay” vs. “Lie”)–What’s the Difference?

Updated on June 22, 2023Grammar

The words lay and lie are similar, but not the same. If youve ever been confused about which word to use and when to use it, youre not alone. Here well look at the differences between the two words, and how to use them correctly, with examples.

Lay vs. lie: What’s the difference?

The words lie and lay have similar meanings: 

  • lie means to be in or put yourself in a horizontal resting position
  • lay means to put someone or something else in a horizontal resting position

Whats the difference between lay and lie? The word lay is a transitive verb, which means it uses a direct object. The word lie is an intransitive verb, which means it does not use a direct object.

You lie down, but you lay something down. Lie does not require a direct object. Lay requires a direct object. The same rules apply to laying and lying (never “lieing”—beware of spelling). The past tense of lay is laid, but be careful with the past tense of lie—there are two options. We’ll dive into them later.

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When to use lay

To lay is to set (or otherwise place) something in a resting position. Here are a few examples of lay in a sentence:

I don’t like to lay my purse on the floor.

The dogs always lay their toys next to their water bowls.

How to use lie

A lie is an untruth. However, it’s the verb form of lie that people find difficult to distinguish from lay. The verb lie can mean to tell a falsehood. Here’s an example of that version of lie in a sentence:

Sometimes children lie to get out of trouble.

If to tell an untruth were the only meaning of lie, using these two words properly would be less of a challenge. However, lie can also mean to recline or to rest in a flat position. Look at this example:

The fat cat likes to lie in the sun.

How to remember the difference between lay and lie

(pLAce) and (recLIne)

This mnemonic should help you remember that lay, which begins with the letters L-A, has a long a sound like the one in its definition: to place. On the other hand, lie, which starts with the letters L-I, has a long sound like the one in its definition: to recline.

How should I use lay and lie?

Knowing the definitions of lay and lie helps, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you exactly how to use them in a sentence. Remember, lay needs a direct object, while lie never has a direct object. Here are two of the examples again to show these properties of lay and lie.

I don’t like to lay my purse on the floor.

In this example, my purse is the direct object of the transitive verb lay.

The fat cat likes to lie in the sun.

In this sentence, the intransitive verb lie stands alone; it has no direct object.

There’s still one more thing you need to know: So far, we’ve been using the verbs lay and lie in their infinitive/present tense forms. But when you are talking about reclining, the past tense of lie is lay, which definitely contributes to the confusion! Here’s an example:

Yesterday, he lay down to sleep at ten o’clock. Tonight, he won’t lie down until midnight.

Laying vs. lying

Beware of spelling! The present participle of lie is not lieing. The i becomes a y: lying. Here is a mnemonic to help you tell laying and lying apart: “If you tell an untruth, it is a lie, not a lay; and if you are in the process of telling an untruth you are lying, not laying.”

The delivery boy took pleasure in gingerly laying each newspaper on the stoop.

I can always tell when my friend is lying because she bites her lip.

I spend rainy days lying on my couch.

Don’t leave dirty clothes lying around the house.

More conjugations of lay and lie

The past tense of lie (as in to tell an untruth) is lied. As we mentioned above, the past tense of lie (as in to recline) is lay. The past tense of lay is laid, which is another recipe for confusion! To remember that laid (as opposed to lain, the past participle of lie) is the past tense of lay, just remember: Use a d when there is a direct object. Because you need a direct object only with lay, you will know that the past tense is laid.

I laid the book down to listen to what my sister was telling me.

In this example, book is the direct object of laid, the past tense form of the transitive verb lay.


Past Past participle




lay laid


Examples of lay and lie

“I would like to lie next to him in the dark and watch him breathe and watch him sleep and wonder what he’s dreaming about and not get an inferiority complex if the dreams aren’t about me.” —Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits.” —George Orwell, Animal Farm

Did the examples help you figure out the difference between lay and lie? If you have mastered this commonly confused pair, try your hand at loose vs. lose and entitled vs. titled.

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