What’s the difference between lay and lie?
You lie down, but you lay something down. Lie does not require a direct object. Lay requires a direct object. The same rule applies to laying and lying (not 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.
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.
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 means to tell a falsehood. Here’s an example of lie in a sentence:
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. Notice this example:
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 its definition: to place. On the other hand, lie, which starts with the letters L-I, has a long I sound like its definition: to recline.
How should I use lay vs. lie?
Knowing what the words mean doesn’t mean you necessarily know how to use lay and lie. Again, here are a few rules to help you. In the present tense, you often use a direct object with lay. However, lie can’t take a direct object. Look back at the examples again to see these rules in play.
There’s still one more thing you need to know. When you are talking about reclining, the past tense of lie is lay! Here’s an example.
Laying Vs. Lying
Beware of spelling! The present participle of lie is not lieing. The I becomes a Y: lying. Here is a mnemonic from the website Primility 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 and not laying.”
The past tense of lie (as in, to tell an untruth) is lied. As you can see, the past tense of lie is lay, but the past tense of lay is laid, which is a recipe for confusion! To remember that laid (as opposed to lain) is the past tense of lay, just memorize this phrase:
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.