Grammar and Punctuation |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Lay, Lie

These may well be the two most confounding three-letter words in all the language. The use of lay where lie is indicated has been a major problem for generations. To lay is to put or place: I will lay my cards on the table. To lie is to rest or recline: The cards lie on the table. But lie also means "to tell an untruth." Maybe because of the word's negative double meaning, people shy away from saying lie.

All of the following are incorrect: I'm going to lay on the couch. Your wallet is laying on the dresser. He wants to lay down. Make it lie, lying, lie, respectively.

Lie: You lie down today; you lay down yesterday; you have lain down before.

Lay: Please lay the book down now; you laid the book down yesterday; you have laid that book down before.

  • Yesterday I lied/laid/lain/lay on the bed
    Most people would guess laid on the bed, but the correct answer is lay.
  • I have often lied/laid/lain/lay on the bed.
    Again, most people would guess laid, but lain is correct.
  • I have often lied/laid/lain/lay my wallet on the dresser.
    This time, laid is correct.

Lay vs. Lie Chart

  Present Past
To recline lie; is/are lying lay; has/have/had lain
To put or place lay; is/are laying laid; has/have/had laid
To tell a falsehood lie; is/are lying lied; has/have/had lied

Examples in the present tense: I like to lie down for a nap at 2 p.m.
I am lying down for a nap today.
Please lay the book down.
I am laying the book down.
I am tempted to lie about my age.
I am not lying about my age.
Examples in the past tense: I lay down for a nap yesterday at 2 p.m.
I laid the book down yesterday.
He lied on the witness stand.
Examples with a helping verb (has, have): I have lain down for a nap every day this week.
I have laid the book down for the last time.
He has lied each day on the witness stand.

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