Editor Afloat

Dedicated to Sticklers everywhere!

To lie or to lay? That is the (confusing) question.


The verb ‘to lie’ means to assume a position or to be in a position. It takes no object in the sentence. “Today I lie down; yesterday I lay down, I have lain down; I am lying down.”

The transitive verb ‘to lay’ means to place or put, and requires an object to complete the sentence. “Today I lay the book on the table; yesterday I laid it there; I have laid it there frequently; I am laying it there.”

An easy test when deciding which verb to use is to replace lie or lay with place or put. You can’t say “I place in the hammock.” So, it would be “I lie in the hammock”. But “I placed my book on the side table” is correct. So you could say, “I laid my book on the side table.”

      TO LIE
      present tense ~ lie
      past tense ~ lay
      past participle ~ lain
      present participle ~ lying
      TO LAY
      present tense ~ lay
      past tense ~ laid
      past participle ~ laid
      present participle ~ laying

Hope that little reminder helps. Next time we’ll decipher ‘sit’ and ‘set’!


Author: The Editor Afloat

The Editor Afloat provides proofreading and editing services for the written word. The name comes from the NCIS designation for a Special Agent assigned to a vessel, "Agent Afloat". I live on-board and work from my boat. That makes me an Editor Afloat!

4 thoughts on “To lie or to lay? That is the (confusing) question.

  1. Oh boy, I know I made mistakes with that. And actually, it was Word’s grammar/spell check who kept underlining my sentence “I lied down on the bed” or “he came over and lied down next to me”

  2. Yes, that can be so confusing. ‘Lied’ is the past tense of the verb ‘to lie’ (to tell an untruth with the intent of deception). So your sentences would be, “I lay down on the bed” and “he came over and lay down next to me”. He could also be lying about lying on your bed!

  3. So is lied the past tense of lay? I lied down on the bed last night.

  4. The past tense of lie is lay. The past tense of lay is laid. Boy, that really helps, doesn’t it? 🙂 So, last night I was so tired that I laid my coat on the bed, then I lay down next to it and fell fast asleep. This morning, my coat is laying where I left it and I am lying in the same spot still wearing my clothes.

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