Lie vs. lay

lie vs. lay

Don’t lie to yourself. This grammar rule can sometimes be so confusing it makes you want to lay the rule book down and walk away or just lie down altogether.

First, let’s forget about the lying to yourself part. “To lie,” as in to tell an untruth, is its own separate meaning that’s pretty clear-cut. Let’s focus on the reclining and the setting something down definitions.


Present tense

Without going into a confusing explanation of direct objects and why lay is lay and lie is lie, there’s one simple way to remember how to use this verb in the present tense:  “You lay something down, and people or animals lie down by themselves.”


The cute, 14-week-old kitten lies down on the sofa.

Sheila, its owner, lays a roll of yarn next to it. 


Past tense

Here’s where things get crazy. Lay is the past tense of lie and laid is the past tense of lay. What?! Who made this up?

Remember, you lay something down and people lie down by themselves. So if it happened in the past, here’s how it would go down:


The cute, 14-week-old kitten lay down on the sofa yesterday. 

Sheila, its owner, laid down a roll of yarn next to it yesterday.


Pro tip: past participles

The past participle of lie is lain, and the past participle of lay is laid.


The cute, 14-week-old kitten has lain on the sofa for days.

Sheila, its owner, has laid countless rolls of yarn next to it each day.


–Sarah Muench

2019-07-21T18:24:33+00:00 August 12th, 2019|Proofreading Tips|0 Comments

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