Lay or Lie? – 5 Minute Grammar Lesson

LAY and LIE are two words that cause a lot of confusion (And I have been guilty of using them incorrectly, too) This is my best attempt to explain the difference. It’s a little technical, so bear with me! 🙂

Lay or Lie 5 minutes grammar lesson

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Lay or Lie?

According to the Everyday Writer, the textbook I use in the college composition classes I teach:

How to use Lay

1. LAY means to “place” or “put.” Its main forms are lay, laid, laid. If you are putting a book on the table, you will say, “I am laying a book on the table.” It usually takes a direct object (the word specifying WHAT has been placed), in this case, a book.

One way you can test the usage is to replace the word LAY with PLACE or PUT. In this case they all make sense: I will lay the book on the table. I will place the book on the table. I will put the book on the table. Good.

How to use Lie

2. LIE means to “recline” or “be positioned” and does not take a direct object.  Its main forms are lie, lay, lain. This is the form that most people use incorrectly. For instance, these forms are all wrong:

  • I will lay down.
  • To a dog: LAY down!
  • At the doctor’s office: LAY back, please.

See, there is no direct object used in the above sentences. And if that’s too confusing, use the test I mentioned above, and replace LIE with “put.”

  • I will PUT down? Nope.
  • PUT down, Dog! Nope.
  • PUT back, please. Again, nope!! So instead of LAY, use LIE.

I will LIE down. Yes.
LIE down, Dog. Yes.
LIE back, please. Yes.

Here’s my best advice, though: when in doubt, use a different word! For example:

I’m going to rest.
Platz. (German for Lie down.)
Put your head on the pillow! 🙂

Hopefully, that will help you use LAY and LIE correctly. And that’s your 5 Minute Grammar Lesson.

Lay or Lie ~5 minute grammar lesson

Here are more grammar posts you may like:

How to make the word PEOPLE possessive

Bias or Biased?

Do to or Due to?

Less or Fewer?

Should have gone or Should have went?

And if you’re looking for helpful grammar resources, here are my top picks:

Grammarly – Instantly fix over 250 types of errors with this free web-based grammar checker!

Strunk & White Elements of Style

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation 

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation 

The Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Check back next Sunday for another quick grammar lesson! And if you’d like to get weekly grammar tips delivered straight to your inbox, please subscribe to my once a week newsletter. I promise I won’t spam you. 🙂

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