Usage: Lay or Lie?

Jul 06, 2019 | Posted by Jennifer


Lay versus lie. These two verbs perennially perplex even the most astute grammarian in terms of correct usage. Hopefully in today’s blog post, we can help you feel more confident as you use these common yet confusing verbs.

The verb “lay” means “to put or place something.” In contrast, the verb “lie” means “to rest or recline.” Some people find the mnemonic, “to LAy means to plAce, and to LIe means to reclIne” helpful to remember the distinction in meaning between the two. Let’s let’s take a look at the present tense of these verbs. “Lay” is a transitive verb. In other words, it’s a verb that requires a direct object. “Lie” is intransitive and does not take a direct object. Think of it this way: You “lay” something down. It may be a book, a puppy, or your wet raincoat, but it is an object of some kind. In contrast, “lie” does not have a direct object. You may decide to lie down on your bed for a nap, but when it’s time for the baby’s nap, you lay her down. So far so good?

Where these two verbs cause even more confusion is when we begin to look at the past tense for each of them. It might be useful to take a peek at a chart to guide our discussion:

Present Tense

Past Tense

Present Participle

Past Participle

Lay (takes a direct object)




Lie (no direct object)




Viewing the chart, you can easily see why one might get confused. “Lay” is the present tense of the verb “to lay” while also being the past tense form of the verb “to lie.” Just as the present tense of lie takes no direct object, the past tense of lie, lay, does not either. Using the examples from above, you could say, “Yesterday, I laid the baby down for her nap, and then I lay down as well.”

Feeling more confident? How about trying out a few sentences to see if you can select the correct verb form. The answers will be listed at the bottom of the post.

  1. When Ashley got home from school yesterday, she _______________ her backpack down on the counter and dug three cookies out of the jar for a snack.

  2. Please _____________ your tests on my desk before you leave the classroom.

  3. Yesterday, Jennifer had _____________ down all afternoon because she had a headache.

  4. While Susan is ____________ the silverware on the table, please fill the glasses with water.

  5. When the temperature climbs above 100 degrees, I have to ___________ down.

  6. Where did I _____________ my copy of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style?

  7. He was ______________ down on the couch when the storm struck.

Hopefully this blog post has helped you get a better handle on these commonly confused words. If you’d like to learn even more about grammar, including confusing verbs like lay and lie, check out Fix It! Grammar, IEW’s award-winning grammar editing program. A program for students beginning around grade 4, it works equally well for adult learners and will be sure to help you grow your grammar skills as well as your confidence.


  1. laid
  2. lay
  3. lain
  4. laying
  5. lie
  6. lay
  7. lying


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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