The Verb to lay and to lie

lay: means to put something down, to place something somewhere.

The principle parts are lay (present), laid (past), (have, has or had) laid (past participle).

The present participle form is laying. The verb lay always takes an object.

He lays tile for the Regal Store.

I lay the book on my desk. (present)

He laid tile for the Petersons.

Yesterday, I laid the book on the teacher’s desk. (past)

He has laid tile for our neighbours.

I have laid a book on Johnny’s desk every day this school year. (past participle)

He is laying tile today.

(Tile is the object of all the above sentences.)

Morrigan nodded, but decided small talk wasn’t going to help make the task that lay ahead easier.

lie: means to recline, to rest, or to remain in a reclining position.

The principle parts are lie (present), lay (past), (have, has had) lain (past participle).

The present participle form of lying.

He lies down every afternoon.

I lie on my bed when I have a headache. (present)

He lay on the couch all afternoon.

Yesterday, I lay on my bed to contemplate life. (past)

He has lain on the couch at times.

I have lain on my bed every morning all winter because it’s too cold to get up. (past participle)

He is lying on the couch

Argon removed his sword and lay (NOT laid) on the bed.

Argon gazed upon the enchanting woman in his bed, with her head lying (Lying is right. Laying would be followed by a direct object ‘laying or laid his weapons on the table’) against his pillow as if this was where she awoke every morning.

Three hours later, they lay on their bellies looking down upon a peaceful village in a glen.

The verb lie is also the verb to use when speaking of inanimate objects that are in a reclining or in a lying-down position.

The report lies on my desk.

The report lay on my desk for a week.

The report is lying on my desk.

A: Don’t forget about “lain,” my friend! All these verbs have two things in common: They begin with the letter “L” and confuse the bejeezus out of many people.

Let’s give this a shot. Lay and lie are both present-tense verbs, but they don’t mean quite the same thing. Lay means to put or set something down, so if the subject is acting on an object, it’s “lay.” For example, I lay down the book. You, the subject, set down the book, the object.

Lie, on the other hand, is defined as, “to be, to stay or to assume rest in a horizontal position,” so the subject is the one doing the lying—I lie down to sleep or When I pick up a copy of my favourite magazine, Writer’s Digest, I lie down to take in all its great information. In both these cases, you, the subject, are setting yourself down.

In the past tense, “lay” becomes “laid” (I laid down the law and told her it was inappropriate for her to pick her nose) and “lie” becomes “lay” (She lay down for a nap that afternoon and picked her nose anyway). Yes, “lay” is also the past tense of “lie.” And the confusion doesn’t end there.

To throw you for another loop, “laid” is also the past participle form of “lay.” So, when helping verbs are involved, “lay” becomes “laid” and “lie” becomes “lain.” Grandma had laid the chicken in the oven earlier this morning. The chicken had lain there all day until it was cooked all the way through and ready for us to eat.

Remember: Lay and laid both mean to set something down, while lie, lay and lain all mean the subject is setting itself down.

4 thoughts on “The Verb to lay and to lie

  1. I think I use the correct word…most of the time. This is great information to have at our disposal. I’m sure I’ll have to use it when I get back into the checking of my Jimmy the Leprechaun story.

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