By Request: Lay Versus Lie

I have to admit:  this one gets me too.

I think the problem is that everyone out there who tries to explain it goes so stinking in-depth that they just make it more confusing than it needs to be.

I found articles that flung around transitive and intransitive… tenses… participles… Ugh!  Can anyone explain the English Language in ENGLISH, PLEEEEEEAAASE?  I mean, really… I am an English major.  I love words, but you need to be able to write so people can understand what you are saying!    (Sorry, that is a rant for another day.)

Anyway… in translating all these over-worded college professors… this is what I came up with:

A few common parenting faux pas have just reiterated the lay verses lie problem from the time we are children.  I have to admit I do this stuff too, but I am going to try to watch myself from now, on.

(By the way… There is no plural form of “faux pas.”  I thought it looked weird too.  I looked it up to check.)

Common child’s prayer:  “Now I lay me down to sleep”

Since this is in the present tense, it should actually be “Now I lie me down to sleep.”

What do you say to your dog?  “Go lay down.”

Nope.  Start telling them to “Go lie down.”

(I am saying dog there because I realized that I tell my kids to Lie down, but I tell my dog to Lay down.  My kids are hearing it both ways.  Yeah, I’m not screwing them up too much.

I found this spreadsheet on I think it does a pretty good job of laying it all out (no pun intended.)

Base Form

Past Tense

Past Participle

Present Participle

lie (to stretch   out, recline) lay lain lying
lay (to place, to   put) laid laid laying

Now, do you notice what I notice?  Look at the past tense of “Lie”

Let’s not make it too confusing now!

I wrote a post yesterday saying “As I lay on the table”.  I was reading up on all this and I thought, “Crud, I didn’t lay on the table, I guess I lied on the table.—No, maybe it’s lie.”  I was all ready to go back and change it while I was researching this, until I found this chart.  You can lie down on a table, but two days ago, you lay on the table.  I was actually right the first time.

What I suggest you do if you struggle with this, is copy this chart and print it out.  Tape it to your wall.  When you run into the Lay/Lie conundrum, think:  “Am I reclining or stretching, or am I placing an object somewhere.”

If you place the salt on the table, you lay it on the table. If you are going to bed, you lie down.

Easy enough, right?  Until you switch it to past tense and screw yourself all up anyway.

Ah, the joys of the English Language!


36 responses to “By Request: Lay Versus Lie

  1. Pingback: By Request — Lay verses Lie – Take Two & National Macaroni Day! | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. Thank you! Great post! I copied the chart and posted it at my desk. (I was referred here by Jenny at Now could you do one on who and whom for me??!!

  3. Pingback: By Request: Passed verses Past | Jennifer M Eaton

  4. And this is why I absolutely need to find an English-major beta reader. Because I definitely do not have the patience to weed out all the minor grammatical errors that make the Engish annoying. Lol

  5. Sometimes a spreadsheet can express something better than so many words. Nice work on that chart!

  6. In reply to Jenny’s tale of rejection due to correct usage: My recent manuscript had a conversation using the word “who” where a “whom” was the correct choice. I used “who” to emulate what you would commonly hear. I did realize it was grammatically incorrect. I was advised to change it to “whom” to set a good example for YA. It depends on the editor.

    • I am very particular to use correct Engligh when children are involved. The word WHOM, however, I think is disappearing from the English Language. Even used correctly, it sounds odd, now.

  7. Oh, gaaaah! The English language; so many nuances over which my mind blows a gasket.


    And, why is English the only language (of which I’m aware) that has no plural “you?”

    Thank goodness sentences ending in a preposition are now acceptable.

  8. Now I lay my head on the table and go durh! It’s just too hard! Am I reclining my head…or placing it down on the table (like Frankinstein–taking his head off and placing it down to gawk at? Argh!) Me need a nap–I’m not lying.

  9. Hey, great work with the challenge I laid before you! (And by using the handy chart you provided, I know I got that right. Yay!)

    I definitely find myself overthinking my grammar sometimes. And I hate it when I change something that was right the first time as a result. Grrr. Sometimes our first instinct really is correct. But I bet this particular one has been confusing English speakers for a few hundred years. And I’d bet we could find plenty of books where agents and editors missed the “wrong” usage, too.

    Great post!

  10. Make that, it will be lying on the desk… (why didn’t I think of that before I hit post?) Going to lie down in my corner now.

  11. Jennifer, you have made me dizzy, but happy. You have made this conundrum enjoyable. I’ll print the chart, but I’ll have to la-la-la-lay it on the desk since I don’t have a billboard. Laying the chart on the desk means it will be lost under stacks of other meaningful paper when I need it. No lie.

  12. Thank you so much for that table. I printed it and taped it to the inside of my “Elements of Style” book. It’s clearer than the description in the book. 🙂

  13. DOH! Are you talkin to me?? I kept wanting to scream, “YOU LIE!” But… I knew you was write. I figured somebody would come along won day and lay down the law. Seriously, though, I hate rules and do my best to avoid them, but I reckon I’ll print this chart, ’cause I never get the lie-lay-layed-lying-laid thing right. But what about the falsehood lie; you left that out, and I’m wondering if it was a lie of ommission or were you lying… laying down on the job? <– I'm also wondering if that should be a question mark or a period. I'm not an english major, by the way; was never in the service or college. I just right for fun!
    (Love your article! Great writing style!)

  14. yes, but have you ever lied about getting l*id?

      • I don’t think so. In my younger days, I might have to boast or to deny something.

        I was just playing with words.

        Interesting that you put an asterix in the word l*id (there, I saved you the trouble), but is it an unacceptable word to use in it’s full form? Obviously it’s ok when refering to chicken’s eggs, but in the implied context of my message, it is not. I am curious, because I hear this word in movies, television and real life all the time. I find it quite a coy word compared to so many expressions of the same meaning, which certianly do deserve an asterix or two.

        Apologies if I transgressed.


        • It’s not actually a curse, but it’s still not something I’d prefer some of my younger readers to see. I try to think of how I would feel if my kids were reading this, and I edit appropriately.

          No harm, Not foul. I am not offended. 🙂

  15. Chart copied, cut and pasted on the window. Thanks for this.



  16. Easiest way to remember: “lie” is just being. Nothing is happening. “Lay” is passing over, through or on top of something.

  17. I think I will take your suggestion. I mess these up all the time. But, as Jenny pointed out, maybe all I have to do is read it out loud and if it sounds right – it is?

  18. Grt post! Who doesn’t love fun w grammar.

  19. You want to hear something really screwy? I submitted a short story to several different magazines and publishers putting together an anthology. I had a similar issue in my story and I researched the heck out of it make sure I used the correct word. After all, it was going to publishers, editors.

    Five out of the eight I submitted to sent back an e-mail to me that said something along the lines of (1) great story but we’re going to pass, and (2) while you used the correct word of lay versus lie, it reads incorrect in the story. It is not natural to speak the word properly in this context, therefore making it difficult on the reader. We suggest in this case to stick with the inappropriate use of the word to ease the reader’s flow.

    I’m not joking. I’ll try to find a copy and send it to you. Don’t speak correct English because we don’t speak that way and it will disrupt the flow. LOL!!!! Who woulda thunk it.

    • This is a hoot, and I believe you. Problem is, one publisher would trash you for not being right, and the other would take you for not being right. You will never know until you actually submit. By then, it is too late!