Two of the most confusing and misused words are lay and lie, including all of their forms. Which word do you use when you put something down? How about when you recline or rest? Is it lay, lie, laying, lying, laid, lain, lei? (Not the last one—that is a Hawaiian wreath. 😉 ) These terms are tricky, especially since they’re often misused in common speech. Here’s how to accurately use each of these words.
LAY / LAID / has, have, had LAID / LAYING = to put something down or put something in place
Lay (present/future tenses):
— My hen lays an egg every day.
— Lay the birthday gifts on the coffee table.
— They lay many miles of cable each week.
— We will lay the carpet tomorrow.
Laid / has, have, had Laid (past tenses):
— Our waitress laid extra napkins on our table.
— My brother laid his cell phone near his computer.
— The bales of hay were laid in rows.
— All the guests had laid their coats on the bed.
Laying (present/past tenses using a participle):
— The CIA was laying a trap for the spy.
— The workers are laying tile in the morning.
— The lawyer is laying a foundation for his argument.
— Laying out the clothes you want to wear will save you time in the morning.
LIE / LAY / has, have, had LAIN / LYING = to assume a reclining position or to be in a reclining position
Lie (present/future tenses):
— Snakes lie on rocks and sun themselves.
— I’m going to lie down for a while.
— His dog lies on his dirty socks.
— A spider will lie in wait for its prey.
Lay (past tense):
— My cat lay in her usual hiding place.
— A rusty sign lay against the wall of an abandoned gas station.
— A frog lay on a lily pad in the pond.
— As I lay on the couch, my thoughts kept me awake.
Lain (past tense using participle):
— That trash has lain in the street for days.
— The house had lain empty for months.
— Valuable artifacts had lain in the tomb for centuries.
— Her rings have always lain next to her bracelets.
Lying (present/past tenses using a participle):
— The children’s toys are lying everywhere.
— No one wants dirty dishes lying in the sink.
— Seashells were lying along the beach.
— I am lying on a floatie in my pool.
QUIZ: Are these terms used correctly? See if you can spot the errors.
1. After hiking all day, she lay down on the floor and fell asleep.
2. I’m so exhausted that I’m going to lay down.
3. Dad laid down the law and said we couldn’t go out until we cleaned our rooms.
4. The kitten laid under the cushions.
5. The quarter was laying in the gutter.
6. He said he was going to lay down for just a minute.
7. I wore three leis to the luau in Hawaii.
2. Wrong—I’m going to lie down
4. Wrong—The kitten lay under the cushions.
5. Wrong—The quarter was lying in the gutter.
6. Wrong—He said he was going to lie down.
7. Correct—and lucky you!
Savvy Writer Tip:
There are specific rules for using the terms lay and lie, even though we hear them used incorrectly in everyday speech, songs, etc. Savvy writers use lay, lie, and all of their different tenses accurately. 🙂