When to use LAY vs LIE

Image: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

This may sound shocking, but there is no longer a distinction between “lie” and “lay.” Yes, there was a time — 10, 20 or more years ago — when using LIE or LAY showed the difference between good, standard English and “other.” But when the majority of native English speakers do not care and use the two verbs interchangeably, your worries are over.  Why? Because …


When grammar rules are too hard to remember, people change them and have actually made English easier over time. So, “I’m going to LAY down” is now as acceptable as the traditional, “I’m going to LIE down.” Past tense: “Yesterday, I lay down” but if you hear “Yesterday, I laid down,” probably no one would notice. Same for past participles “have lain” or “have laid.”


Traditionally, grammar teachers would say, “lay” was the kind of verb (transitive) that needed a direct object, as in, “I am laying the book on the table.” “Lie” (intransitive) did not take a direct object, so “I want to lie down” was correct. The past tense of “lie” is “lay,” and the past tense of “lay” is ‘laid;” and the past participle of “lie” was “lain,” and the past participle of “lay” was “laid.” Glad you asked?!


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