[verb oh-ver-ley; noun oh-ver-ley]
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verb (used with object), o·ver·laid, o·ver·lay·ing.
  1. to lay or place (one thing) over or upon another.
  2. to cover, overspread, or surmount with something.
  3. to finish with a layer or applied decoration of something: wood richly overlaid with gold.
  4. Printing. to put an overlay upon.
  1. something laid over something else; covering.
  2. a layer or decoration of something applied: an overlay of gold.
  3. Printing.
    1. a shaped piece of paper, or a sheet of paper reinforced at the proper places by shaped pieces, put on the tympan of a press to increase or equalize the impression.
    2. a method of preparing copy for multicolor printing, in which matter for each color is prepared on a transparent sheet that is placed over a key plate, usually the one to be printed in black.
    3. the sheet or sheets so prepared.
  4. a sheet of transparent paper placed over a photograph, a dummy, or other artwork for noting corrections, instructions, mechanical separations, etc.
  5. Computers. software or data in external storage and brought into main storage for execution by replacing or augmenting software or data already there.
  6. a transparent sheet giving special military information not ordinarily shown on maps, used by being placed over the map on which it is based.
  7. a decorative piece of leather or other material stitched on a shoe.
  8. Scot. a cravat.

Origin of overlay

Middle English word dating back to 1250–1300; see origin at over-, lay1


  1. simple past tense of overlie.


verb (used with object), o·ver·lay, o·ver·lain, o·ver·ly·ing.
  1. to lie over or upon, as a covering or stratum.
  2. to smother (an infant) by lying upon it, as in sleep.

Origin of overlie

First recorded in 1125–75, overlie is from the Middle English word overlien, overliggen. See over-, lie2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for overlay

superimpose, plate, coat, glaze, pave, spread, veneer

Examples from the Web for overlay

Contemporary Examples of overlay

Historical Examples of overlay

British Dictionary definitions for overlay


verb (ˌəʊvəˈleɪ) -lays, -laying or -laid (tr)
  1. to lay or place something over or upon (something else)
  2. (often foll by with) to cover, overspread, or conceal (with)
  3. (foll by with) to cover (a surface) with an applied decorationebony overlaid with silver
  4. to achieve the correct printing pressure all over (a forme or plate) by adding to the appropriate areas of the packing
noun (ˈəʊvəˌleɪ)
  1. something that is laid over something else; covering
  2. an applied decoration or layer, as of gold leaf
  3. a transparent sheet giving extra details to a map or diagram over which it is designed to be placed
  4. printing material, such as paper, used to overlay a forme or plate


verb -lies, -lying, -lay or -lain (tr)
  1. to lie or rest uponCompare overlay
  2. to kill (a baby or newborn animal) by lying upon it
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

Word Origin and History for overlay

"to cover the surface of (something)," c.1300, in part from Old English oferlecgan "to place over," also "to overburden," and in part from over- + lay (v.). There also was an overlie in Middle English, but it merged into this word. Similar compounds are found in other Germanic languages, e.g. Gothic ufarlagjan. Related: Overlaid; overlaying.


in the printing sense, 1824, from overlay (v.). Meaning "transparent sheet over a map, chart, etc." is from 1938. In earliest noun use it meant "a necktie" (1725).



late 12c., from over- + lie (v.2), or from an unrecorded Old English *oferlicgan. "In use from 12th to 16th c.; in 17-18th displaced by overlay; reintroduced in 19th c., chiefly in geological use." [OED]. Related: Overlay; overlain.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper