Lie and lay are two words that seem to cause some of the greatest confusion, even among those versed in English grammar. Lie means to recline; lay, on the other hand, means to put or place something.Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that there is always an object after it. (Lay the book on the shelf. Book is the object.) The principal parts of lie and lay are listed below.

lie: lie, lying, lay, (have) lain
lay: lay, laying, laid, (have) laid

The confusion generally seems to occur with the forms of lie. The following sentences illustrate the correct and incorrect uses of lay and lie.

I lie [not lay] on the floor when I watch television.
I lay my keys on the table when I arrive home from work.
I am lying [not laying] on the floor watching television.
I am laying my briefcase on my desk to remind me that I have work to finish.
Yesterday I lay [not laid] in bed all day with a fever.
Yesterday I laid my briefcase on my desk and forgot about it when I left for work.
(have) lain/(have) laid
I have lain [not have laid] in bed all day with a fever.
I have laid my briefcase on my desk to remind me that I have work to finish.

Although these are two extremely confusing verbs, with a little practice, you should have them down pat. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any helpful hints to use for remembering how to use lie and lay correctly. My only suggestion is to memorize them and practice.

Posted in Grammar.

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  1. Steve says:

    Hi there.

    I’m confused about which of the two sentence is correct (or if neither of them is correct). Can you tell me?

    ‘We developed this and now every American citizens’ Constitutional rights lie in the balance’


    ‘We developed this and now every American citizens’ Constitutional rights lay in the balance’



  2. Andres says:

    HOw about this one ….

    My mind lie in my hometown
    My mind lies in my hometown
    My mind Lay on my hometown

    I pretty confuse. which one is the correct answer ????

    • Alex says:

      Remenber that Lay will be follow by a direct subject, so I would turn down the third sentence. to me, the answer is the second one!

  3. Crystal says:

    Quick question. If I lay the book on the table, which is proper:

    “The book lays on the table”
    “The book lay on the table”

  4. Danielle says:

    I always heard “hens lay, people lie.”

  5. Jillian says:

    I was wondering is this sentence is correct:
    “it never LIES” referring to something that is telling the truth.
    Since it is singular, lie would have an S? Or is it “it never lie” ?

    • Steve Vernon says:

      The simple way to remember the difference between “lie” and “lay” is that “lie” is something you do, while “lay” is something you do TO something. I might lie down, but I would lay someone to rest. It’s like the difference between “sit” and “set”. I would sit in a chair, but I would set the book on the table. As far as the other tenses, well . . yeah, that’s something you almost just have to memorize.

  6. Natasha says:

    omg thank you this helped me so much when i was doing spelling homework i was so confused on what to do so i was trying to find it online and when i found this website it helped so much thank you!

  7. Patricia says:

    Then how would you conjugate the verb “to lie” in the present and past tense, as in a liar, one who does not tell the truth?

  8. Courtney says:

    This one used to trip me up until I started thinking of it this way:

    Lying is something a noun does.
    Laying is something that must be done to another noun.

    A bricklayer must lay bricks. He must not lie down for a nap and leave the bricks lying there. They’re not going to lay themselves, so he must not lay down his head!

  9. Stan says:

    I have a question regarding when to use “luckily”. I’m doing a practice test, and I selected the wrong word out of a list of choices:

    “Being that I was sick, I missed a whole week of classes; luckily I copied all the lecture notes from Linda.”

    Can you explain why “luckily” can’t be used in this sentence? Seems ok to me.

    • Rachel V. says:

      Stan, see my article on the usage of hopefully. Luckily was probably marked as incorrect for the same reason that hopefully is often considered incorrect.

  10. Rachel V. says:

    It’s still “what lies ahead,” not “what lays ahead.” You’re right that there is no reclining in a literal sense, but this is using “lie” figuratively.

  11. Katherine says:

    What about future, as in: What lies ahead? Or is what lays ahead? No object here, but also no reclining that I can tell!!

  12. Rachel V says:

    Allen 2: “Lay” (not “laid”, as is usually said) is the past tense of “lie.” So, it’s possible that is how “lay” is being used in the Ode.

  13. Allen 2 says:

    The Naval Ode of Remembrance has the first two lines:
    They have no grave but the cruel sea,
    No flowers lay at their head….
    It has always irritated me. It should be ‘lie at their head’.
    Am I correct?

  14. Rachel V says:

    Allen: Yes, I believe that “lay” can be used reflexively. You have an object–“myself.”

  15. Allen says:

    Can “lay” be used reflexively? Instead of:

    “I lie down.”

    Can I use:

    “I lay myself down.”?

  16. Nik T says:

    Caroline and Rachel, you’re both correct.

    In England and the Commonwealth countries; Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa, and to a lesser extent, Canada, “practice” is the noun and “practise” the verb.

  17. Rachel V says:

    Caroline, I believe “practise” (with an s) is the British spelling. I don’t think it has anything to do with using it as a verb or noun.

    • Richard Pelland says:

      In Canada, practise is the the verb, while practice is the noun. Here in Ontario, the government curriculum follows this rule.

    • Gregorius says:

      I assure you that Commonwealth writers use practise and license as verbs and practice and licence as nouns.

  18. Caroline says:

    Isn’t “practise” a verb and “practice” a noun? You have used “practice” as a verb on the page about lay and lie.

    Incidentally, I’m sorry if I appear to be criticising; I find your site a great source of clarification in general. Thanks.