Have an expert improve your writing
Check your paper for plagiarism
Get inspired by free writing samples

Usage of “Lie” or “Lay”: Memorable Hints for Students

Written by Bonnie Adair
Posted: September 15, 2021
Last update date: March 22, 2024
3 min read

Have you ever agonized over lay vs. lie when writing, not sure which one you should use in that particular instance? Well, this is something that even native English speakers and experienced writers struggle with. After all, these words do look and sound similar to one another.

Despite these surface similarities, though, these words actually have rather separate meanings. Here are the definitions to help you understand this a little better:

Understanding ‘Lie’:

The verb “lie” means to recline or rest in a horizontal position. It is an intransitive verb, which means it does not require a direct object. The action of lying down is something that a person or an animal does by themselves.

Understanding ‘Lay’:

On the other hand, “lay” is a transitive verb, meaning it requires a direct object. It means to put or place something down.

As you can see, according to these definitions, lay down vs. lie down mean two separate things. However, this isn’t the end of the rules regarding how to use these two words. To truly be able to use them in the correct context each and every time, you are going to have to read the rules below.

More than just a spell check
Editors on PapersOwl can edit your paper and give recommendations on how to improve your writing:
Sentence structure
Academic style
Improve my paper

When Use Lay and Lie Verbs

Now, before learning how to use lay and lie, you should be aware of another fact. There are several forms of these words as well. Therefore, you have to contend with lay, lie, laid, laying, lying, lain as well. While all of this may sound rather confusing, the necessary rules will be mentioned below.


  • Present tense: “lie” (e.g., “I lie on the bed.”)
  • Past tense: “lay” (e.g., “Yesterday, I lay on the bed.”)
  • Past participle: “lain” (e.g., “I have lain on the bed.”)


  • Present tense: “lay” (e.g., “I lay the book on the table.”)
  • Past tense: “laid” (e.g., “I laid the book on the table.”)
  • Past participle: “laid” (e.g., “I have laid the book on the table.”)

Examples of Usage

Present Tense

Lay and lie are the present tense forms of these words. Therefore, sentences containing them would appear as such:

I am very particular about where I lay my clothes when in a dressing room.

She likes to lie down on the sofa for naps.

Present Participle

He is laying the table carefully so that he doesn’t move any of the plates.

She likes to spend her days off lying on her bed, reading.

Past Tense

Yesterday, the child lay down on the muddy ground.

The man laid the book on the table with a great deal of force.

Once you get used to this rule, you will find it easier to understand the lay vs. lie and laid relationship.

Past Participle

Then, there is the matter of lie, lay, laid vs. lain. This is to do with the past participle form of the words lie and lay. In short, the past participle of lay is laid while the past participle of lie is lain. Here is an example of this:

She has laid all of the towels on the floor in a heap.

The dog has lain in that puddle for most of the day.

How to Remember Usage Lay vs. Lie?

  1. Remember the Direct Object: The easiest way to distinguish between “lie” and “lay” is to remember if the action involves a direct object. If you’re placing something somewhere, use “lay.” If the subject of your sentence is reclining by itself, use “lie.”
  2. Conjugation Matters: Pay close attention to the tense you are using. The past tense of “lie” is “lay,” which often leads to confusion. Remembering the phrase, “Yesterday, I lay down for a nap,” can help keep this straight.
  3. Practice with Examples: Creating sentences using both verbs in different tenses can be a practical way to understand their usage. Examples include “I like to lie down after lunch” (present tense of “lie”), “Last night, I laid the keys on the counter” (past tense of “lay”), and “She has lain on the beach all morning” (past participle of “lie”).
  4. Common Mistakes: A common error is using “lay” instead of “lie” for reclining. For example, saying “I’m going to lay down” is incorrect; it should be “I’m going to lie down.”
  5. Useful Mnemonics: “Lay a tray; lie in May.” This rhyme helps remember “lay” as an action involving an object (tray) and “lie” as something you do yourself, perhaps leisurely in May.
  6. The Role of Context in Understanding: Context plays a significant role in understanding which verb to use. For instance, the sentence “I’m going to lay on the bed” is incorrect because “lay” requires an object. It should be “I’m going to lie on the bed.” Understanding the context in which these verbs are used is crucial for proper grammar.

Considering all of the rules associated with lie and lay, it is going to take you a while before you can use it without any issues. In the meantime, you should probably opt for a “grade my paper” service, just to be on the safe side. You will then be able to have an expert writer look over your paper to make certain that you haven’t used these words incorrectly.

When it comes to using the correct verb to refer to the act of placing something in a certain position, many people get confused between the two verbs LAY and LAID. To avoid any confusion in your writing, using writing services can be a great help. After all, they are there to make sure that the final piece of writing is error-free and grammatically correct.

By following the above advice, and getting some additional assistance, you will have no trouble with any form of writing at all. Instead, you will be able to easily create work that is beyond reproach and able to meet even the highest of standards.

Papersowl contacts


Just fill out the form, press the button, and have no worries!

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related emails.

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.