Lay or Lie?

Since the 14th century people have been getting confused when using lay and lie. Just what is the difference between these two words and why do we always get them mixed up?

To lay or to lie, that is the question (as Shakespeare might say, or ask). One of the main reasons we get these wrong is because we get them confused with their past tense versions.

The past tense of lay is laid, and the past tense of lie is lay—hence the confusion. (Note: never use layed, the correct spelling is laid.)

Remember that lay means ‘to put or place’ and lie means ‘to rest or recline’.

Present tense example:

You lay your book on the desk, and it will lie there until you pick it up again.

Past tense example:

Yesterday he laid his book on the desk, and it lay there until he picked it up.

A handy mnemonic:

Lay is tr(a)nsitive – a verb that takes an object. Ask yourself: lay what down?

Lie is (i)ntransitive – a verb that doesn’t need an object. Tell yourself: it’s already down.

If you’re still having trouble remembering which one to use, try replacing lay/lie with the word ‘place’. If the sentence sounds right with the word ‘place’ then you need to use lay, if not, use lie.

Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit

To contact Kristy, email her at

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