Two Nerdy Steps To Learn "Lay" vs. "Lie"

When we asked this woman the difference between lay and lie ... she couldn't answer right away. Maybe her nerdy steps to learn how to use these words will help you learn the difference between lay and lie too?

Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Idioms about lay

Origin of lay

First recorded before 900; Middle English layen, leggen, Old English lecgan (causative of licgan “to lie”; cognate with Dutch leggen, German legen, Old Norse legja, Gothic lagjan. see origin at lie2

synonym study for lay

1. See put.

words often confused with lay

Lay1 and lie2 are often confused. Lay is most commonly a transitive verb and takes an object. Its forms are regular. If “place” or “put” can be substituted in a sentence, a form of lay is called for: Lay the folders on the desk. The mason is laying brick. She laid the baby in the crib. Lay also has many intransitive senses, among them “to lay eggs” ( The hens have stopped laying ), and it forms many phrasal verbs, such as lay off “to dismiss (from employment)” or “to stop annoying or teasing” and lay over “to make a stop.”
Lie, with the overall senses “to be in a horizontal position, recline” and “to rest, remain, be situated, etc.,” is intransitive and takes no object. Its forms are irregular; its past tense form is identical with the present tense or infinitive form of lay : Lie down, children. Abandoned cars were lying along the road. The dog lay in the shade and watched the kittens play. The folders have lain on the desk since yesterday.
In all but the most careful, formal speech, forms of lay are commonly heard in senses normally associated with lie. In edited written English such uses of lay are rare and are usually considered nonstandard: Lay down, children. The dog laid in the shade. Abandoned cars were laying along the road. The folders have laid on the desk since yesterday.


1. lay , lie2 (see usage note at the current entry)2. lay off , layoff

Other definitions for lay (2 of 5)

[ ley ]
/ leɪ /

simple past tense of lie2.

Other definitions for lay (3 of 5)

[ ley ]
/ leɪ /

belonging to, pertaining to, or performed by the people or laity, as distinguished from the clergy: a lay sermon.
not belonging to, connected with, or proceeding from a profession, especially the law or medicine.

Origin of lay

First recorded in 1300–50; Middle English lai “uneducated; not belonging to the clergy; secular,” from Middle French lai, from Medieval Latin lāicus “pertaining to the people or laity”;see origin at laic

Other definitions for lay (4 of 5)

[ ley ]
/ leɪ /

a short narrative or other poem, especially one to be sung.
a song.

Origin of lay

First recorded in 1200–50; Middle English lai, lei “a short narrative poem to be sung with musical accompaniment, especially a harp,” from Old French; further origin uncertain; perhaps from Celtic; compare Old Irish láed, laíd “metrical composition, poem, lay”; perhaps from Germanic; compare Middle High German leich “melody, song,” Old Norse lag (in the sense “air, tune”)

Other definitions for lay (5 of 5)

[ ley ]
/ leɪ /

(on a loom) a movable frame that contains the shuttles, the race plate, and the reed, and that by its oscillating motion beats the filling yarn into place.
any movable part of a loom.

Origin of lay

First recorded in1780–90; variant of lathe
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What's the difference between lay and lie?

Lay commonly means to put or place someone or something down, as in Lay the bags on the table or I’m going to lay the baby in the crib. The sense of lie that’s often confused with lay means to be in or get into a reclining position—to recline, as in I just want to lie in bed for a few more minutes.

Though it’s considered nonstandard, lay is commonly used to mean the same thing as this sense of lie, as in I just want to lay in bed for a few more minutes.

The confusion between the two words is largely due to the fact that lay is also the past tense form of this sense of lie, as in I lay in bed yesterday morning wishing I could go back to sleep. The other tenses of this sense of lie are lain, as in I have lain in bed for the past three hours, and lying, as in I am lying in bed right now. (In contrast, when lie is used as a verb meaning to tell an untruth, its past tense is simply lied.)

The other tenses of lay are laid, as in I laid the bags on the table, and laying, as in Start laying the fruit here and the vegetables there.

Lay is typically used with an object, meaning someone or something is getting laid down by someone. In contrast, lie is something you do yourself without any other recipients of the action.

This sense of lie is commonly used in the verb phrase lie down, as in I was feeling tired so I decided to lie down. Using the phrase lay down to mean the same thing is considered nonstandard, but it’s also very common.

Lay down is also used as a verb phrase meaning about the same thing as lay, as in You can lay down your bags on the table (or You can lay your bags down on the table).

Although lay and lie are often used interchangeably in casual communication, it’s best to use them in the standard way in more formal contexts.

A good way to remember which one to use is to think about whether you could replace the word with put or recline. If you can replace it with put, you probably want to use lay, as in Please lay (put) the bags on the table. If you could replace the word with recline, you probably want to use lie, as in I just want to lie (recline) in bed for a few more minutes.

Here’s an example of lay and lie used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: He said he was just going to lay the blanket on the grass and lie on it for a few minutes, but he lied. After he laid the blanket down, he lay on it for two hours!

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between lay and lie.

Quiz yourself on lay vs. lie!

Should lay or lie be used in the following sentence?

I’m going to _____ the baby down to take a nap.

How to use lay in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for lay (1 of 4)

/ (leɪ) /

verb lays, laying or laid (leɪd) (mainly tr)
See also layabout, lay aside, lay away, lay-by, lay down, lay in, lay into, lay off, lay on, lay out, lay over, lay to, lay up

Word Origin for lay

Old English lecgan; related to Gothic lagjan, Old Norse leggja

usage for lay

In careful English, the verb lay is used with an object and lie without one: the soldier laid down his arms; the Queen laid a wreath; the book was lying on the table; he was lying on the floor. In informal English, lay is frequently used for lie: the book was laying on the table. All careful writers and speakers observe the distinction even in informal contexts

British Dictionary definitions for lay (2 of 4)

/ (leɪ) /

of, involving, or belonging to people who are not clergy
nonprofessional or nonspecialist; amateur

Word Origin for lay

C14: from Old French lai, from Late Latin lāicus, ultimately from Greek laos people

British Dictionary definitions for lay (3 of 4)

/ (leɪ) /

a ballad or short narrative poem, esp one intended to be sung
a song or melody

Word Origin for lay

C13: from Old French lai, perhaps of Germanic origin

British Dictionary definitions for lay (4 of 4)

/ (leɪ) /

the past tense of lie 2
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with lay


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.