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Confusing Words: Lay and Lie

Average: 4.6 (9 votes)

There is often confusion over the verbs to lay and to lie.


To lay means to put something in a horizontal position.
The staff lay the tables for dinner at 8 o'clock.
The rebels were urged to lay down their arms and surrender.
His chickens have stopped laying eggs.

The past tense of lay is laid:
I laid the kittens in their basket.
John was so exhausted that he couldn’t move so we laid him down on the sofa.
You should have laid newspapers on the floor to avoid damaging the parquet.

Lie, lied, lay and lain

The verb to lie has two meanings:

Lie – to say something that is not true. The past tense of lie is lied.
Peter lied about his age to get into the night club.
You can't lie, your eyes betray you.
The past participle is also lied.
Sarah has always lied about her age.

Lie also means to be in or to move into a horizontal position. The past tense is lay.
I think I'll lie down for a bit because I'm too tired to stand.
We just lay down on the grass and looked up at the stars.
The past participle is 'lain'.
The dog has lain at the foot of his master's bed for years.

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

Now complete the following using 'lie' or 'lay' in the correct form:

  • 1. David was _ on the sofa all day.

  • 2. The victims of the train accident were _ to rest yesterday.

  • 3. He _ about his age.

  • 4. The dog _ under the bed.

  • 5. She always _.

  • 6. The money just _ on the desk but the thief must have missed it.