Commonly Confused: lay/lie

May 20, 2006

"To lay" is a transitive verb that means "to place something on a surface, to put" and requires an object. You lay something down.

"To lie" is an intransitive verb that means "to be in or take on a horizontal position, to recline." Since it is intransitive, it never takes a subject. You lie down to sleep.

to lay

  • base form: lay
  • past: laid
  • present participle: (is/are) laying
  • past participle: (has/have/had) laid

to lie

  • base form: lie
  • past: lay
  • present participle: (is/are) lying
  • past participle: (has/have/had) lain

Notice that the past tense of "to lie" is the same as the base form of "to lay."

Review these examples of each tense of both verbs.

Infinitives using the base form:

I am tired, so I am going to lie down. ("to lie" is intransitive; "down" is an adverb modifying "to lie")

I can't wait to lay my head down on my pillow. ("to lay" is transitive; its object is "my head")

Past tense:

Last night, I lay in bed for hours before I finally fell asleep. ("lay" is intransitive; "in bed" is a prepositional phrase modifying "lay")

I laid my keys on the table yesterday, but now I can't find them. ("laid" is transitive; its object is "my keys")

Present participle:

My clothes are lying on the floor. ("are lying" is intransitive; "on the floor" is a prepositional phrase modifying "are lying")

My mother is laying my clothes on the bed. ("is laying" is transitive; its subject is "my clothes")

Past participle:

Before I got up, I had lain in bed for hours. ("had lain" is intransitive; "in bed for hours" is a prepositional phrase modifying "had lain")

Before I put my clothes away, I had laid them on my bed. ("had laid" is transitive; its object is "my clothes")

  • Take this interactive quiz to test your knowledge of these two verbs.
  • If you do not understand a question, post the text in the comments and we will try to explain your mistake.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: