Is it lay or lie? Even native English speakers sometimes have to think about this one, and sometimes they mix these verbs up. The two verbs mean different things, one takes and object and one doesn’t, and just to make things more tricky because the past tense of lie is lay.

Wow! That’s confusing, but we can help.

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Lay or Lie Video script

Native English speakers sometimes muddle these verbs up. Do you know the difference? Watch and see.

Um, so how old are you, Vicki?
I’m, umm… thirty two.

Lie’ has two meanings. If we lie we don’t tell the truth.

Can they help us?
No. What are we going to do?
I don’t know.
Is there a problem?
Oh no, no. We’re great.
You’re lying.
Yes. We’re lying.

In this meaning ‘lie’ is a regular verb: lie – lied – lied. Easy, huh? OK, let’s forget that meaning and look at another one.
This is Xsenia, and she’s lying down here. She’s in a horizontal or resting position.
This meaning is similar to the verb ‘lay’, but when we lay something we put it down.
Now here Xsenia is laying down Carter’s toys, placing them on the floor. So ‘lie’ means be horizontal and ‘lay’ means place something down.
So now it’s time for some grammar.

Are you OK?
No, I’ve got a headache.
Why don’t you go and lie down?

‘Lie’ is an intransitive verb and it has no object. We can lie on something. We can lie in something. We can lie under something, but we can’t lie something.
‘Lay’ is a transitive verbs so it has an object. We always lay something.
We can lay roads – build them by laying down asphalt. We can lay carpets – put them on the floor.
We can lay bricks to build walls. Birds lay eggs and then they sit on them till they hatch. In British English we lay the table.

Oh you’ve laid the table!
Thank you. In America we say set the table.
We can say that in British English too.

Hey! Stop that man. Put up your hands and lay down your weapon.

Now here’s a tip for when you’re not sure which verb to use. If you can also use the verb ‘place’ then the verb you need is ‘lay’.
So Jay lays his book on the couch – he places it there. Lay down your weapon – place it on the ground.
Now both of these verbs are irregular and here’s a tricky thing. Look at the past tense of ‘lie’. It’s lay. Urgh! Sometimes English is so confusing.
The good news is we rarely say ‘lain’ these days, so let’s forget about that. Trust me. You probably won’t need it.
Let’s start with ‘lie’ and we’ll look at these two verb forms first.

I’m tired. I think I’ll go and lie down. I didn’t sleep at all last night.
I lay awake all night.
I thought I heard you snoring.
Not me. It must have been Carter.

So ‘lie’ means be horizontal here, be in a resting position and the past form is lay. Now let’s look at two verb forms of ‘lay’.

Has the mail come?
Yes, I laid it on your desk.
Thank you.

Hey Vicki. Have you seen the dry cleaning?
Yes, I’ve laid it on the bed.
Ah, thank you.

So we have the past and the present perfect here and the verb form is laid in both tenses.
Now the most common mistake people make with these two verbs is they say ‘laying’ when they mean ‘lying’.
If something is just sitting somewhere, use the verb ‘lie’. Here are some examples.
After you have laid a book on the couch – placed it there – then it’s lying there, not laying there.

Have you seen my book?
I think I saw it lying on the couch.
Oh, thank you. Now how did it get there?

So is Jay lying or laying on the sofa here? Well first he lays down on the sofa – places himself there. But now he’s just lying down. He’s in a horizontal position, at rest.
If you see something lying on the ground, it’s just sitting or resting there. It’s only laying there if it’s doing something else, like it’s a chicken that’s laying eggs or something.
And that’s it. That’s the difference between ‘lie’ and ‘lay’. Now don’t forget, the past tense of ‘lie’ is lay.

We’re just back from holiday where I got a wonderful suntan. Unfortunately Jay lay in the sun too long.

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6 thoughts on “Lay Lie – Lie Lay – What’s the difference?”

  1. There appears to be an error in this video, where Vicki has mixed up the verbs ‘lie’ and ‘lay’, the very mix-up that the video is trying to help with! She says, “Well first he lays down on the sofa.” Note that there is no object in this sentence, so the intransitive verb is required: “he lies down on the sofa.” Confusingly, in the rephrasing she adds the object ‘himself’: “places himself there.” If she had not added ‘himself’ to the rephrasing, the fact that the original sentence is ungrammatical would have been clear, because “he places there” is nonsensical. Had she included the object ‘himself’ in the original statement, ‘lay’ would have been correct: “he lays himself down on the sofa.”

    1. Hi West, Vicki here. I didn’t do a good job there. When I have time I will try to make another version of this video.

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