GrammarPhile Blog

Lay and Lie -- Which is correct?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Feb 21, 2012 5:30:00 AM

lay or lie?A common question we've received is about when to use "lay/lie/laid/laying". In this post we cover the differences.  Hope it helps to answer your questions.

Lay (principal parts: lay, laid, laid, laying) means "to put" or "to place." This verb requires an object to complete its meaning.

  • In phase one, we will lay down the rules for the contest.
  • I laid the message right on your desk.
  • I had laid two other notes there yesterday.
  • I've never been one for laying the blame on my subordinates. (Putting the blame.)
  • The material was laid in the box. (A passive construction implying that someone laid the material in the box.)

Lie (principal parts: lie, lay, lain, lying) means "to recline, rest, or stay" or "to take a position of rest." It refers to a person or thing as either assuming or being in a reclining position. This verb cannot take an object.
  • Now he lies in bed most of the day.
  • The job lay before us as we negotiated terms.
  • Our proposal has lain unanswered for two weeks.
  • Your customer records are lying on the salesman's desk.
TEST: In deciding whether to use lie or lay in a sentence, substitute the word place, placed, or placing (as appropriate) for the word in question. If the substitute fits, the corresponding form of lay is correct. If it doesn't, use the appropriate form of lie.
  • I will (lie or lay?) down now. (You could not say, "I will place down now." Therefore, write "I will lie down now.")
  • I (laid or lay?) the pad on his desk. ("I placed the pad on his desk" works. Therefore, write "I laid the pad.")
  • I (laid or lay?) awake many nights. ("I placed awake" doesn't work. Write "I lay awake.")
  • These files have (laid or lain?) untouched for some time. ("These files have placed untouched" doesn't work. Write "These files have lain untouched.")
  • He has been (laying or lying?) down on the job. ("He has been placing down on the job" doesn't work. Write "He has been lying down.")

Source: The Gregg Reference Manual

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Topics: lie, lay, laid, laying, lain

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