Grammar check – the lowdown on lay and lie

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Go lie down, lay that on the table, let sleeping dogs lie.

I’m not going to lie, the rules for using lay and lie are very complicated. It’s easy to get them wrong, so let’s lay down the law and get it right!

Merriam Webster explains it in the simplest way:

Lay’s most common meaning is “to place (something or someone) down in a flat position.” Lie’s corresponding meaning is “to be in a flat position on a surface.” Lay is transitive; it requires that the verb have an object; there has to be a thing or person being placed: Lay it down. Lie, on the other hand, is intransitive. It’s for something or someone moving on their own or something that’s already in position: You can lie down there. You can lie there all day.

Here are their examples of lay and lie in all tenses:

Using lay – lay, laid, have laid, laying

I was told to lay the book down. I laid it down as I have laid other books down. I am laying more books down now.

Using lie – lie, lay, have lain, lying

I was told to lie down. I lay down. I have lain here since. I’m still lying here.

Need more clarity? Check out Merriam Webster’s full explanation here.

We all get things wrong one time or another. I’m glad to have these rules explained to me in simple terms. What grammar rules trip you up?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

25 thoughts on “Grammar check – the lowdown on lay and lie

  1. Such a coincidence seeing this here, Barbara. I just saw Stephen King asking about which was correct on his Twitter account. After all those books, even he still gets confused.

    1. Haha! I always have to think about it before I write or say it. Glad to see that Stephen King also has to ask! Thanks for reading and commenting, Teri. Happy writing!

    1. I know! I wonder, though, if writers for TV and film deliberately use the words incorrectly, in order to appeal a larger audience. Maybe it’s like the “It is I” vs “It’s me” thing – it sounds almost too correct to say “It is I” so people go with the other. I hadn’t thought of that until I read your comment. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Back when I used to teach middle school English, I spent a lot of time on “lie” vs. “lay” just to get kids prepped for standardized tests — because this ALWAYS appears on those tests. I’m pretty sure that once testing was over, all the lie/lay stuff just lay around forgotten . . . 🙂

    1. Haha, I know what you mean. I usually rework a sentence so I can avoid having to know the rules! Thanks for reading my blog, Ann. Looking forward to your next post!

  3. HI! Thanks for stopping by my blog and liking my post on physical activity cutting heart disease risk. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed your post on lie/lay. You should write up further/farther and get those highly educated meteorologists to understand the difference. Have a great day!

  4. This is good to make note of when I have to use lie or lay. Thanks for sharing, Barb. We all need to be refreshed on English rules. They are so confusing even to English speaking people. 🤗

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