The Difference between "Lay", "Lie", and "Laid"

Confession time. Would you believe I have been avoiding the word "Lay" and it's many forms. I have always had trouble with figuring out when it should be "lay", "lie", "lain", "laying" or "lying." What's my solution to figuring it out, you might ask. Simple! I don't use it! I find another word to substitute or another way of saying what I want to say. It sounds ridiculous, and it is. However, there is hope! I came across an article that helped to break it down for me. I thought I would share it with the rest of you. If you're like me, this will be very helpful.

Questions and Quandaries by Brian A. Klems
Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid)

Q: Lay, lie, laid—when do you use each?

—Annemarie Valian

A: Don’t forget about “lain,” my friend! All these verbs have two things in common: They begin with the letter “L” and confuse the bejeezus out of many people.

Let’s give this a shot. Lay and lie are both present-tense verbs, but they don’t mean quite the same thing. Lay means to put or set something down, so if the subject is acting on an object, it’s “lay.” For example, I lay down the book. You, the subject, set down the book, the object.

Lie, on the other hand, is defined as, “to be, to stay or to assume rest in a horizontal position,” so the subject is the one doing the lying—I lie down to sleep or When I pick up a copy of my favorite magazine, Writer’s Digest, I lie down to take in all its great information. In both these cases, you, the subject, are setting yourself down. Are you with me so far?

In the past tense, “lay” becomes “laid” (I laid down the law and told her it was inappropriate for her to pick her nose) and “lie” becomes “lay” (She lay down for a nap that afternoon and picked her nose anyway). Yes, “lay” is also the past tense of “lie.” And the confusion doesn’t end there.

To throw you for another loop, “laid” is also the past participle form of “lay.” So, when helping verbs are involved, “lay” becomes “laid” and “lie” becomes “lain.” Grandma had laid the chicken in the oven earlier this morning. The chicken had lain there all day until it was cooked all the way through and ready for us to eat.

Remember: Lay and laid both mean to set something down, while lie, lay and lain all mean the subject is setting itself down.

And now, I lay this question to rest.

There is also a really helpful chart that he created, but when I copy and paste it looks weird on the blog. To see the chart, or find this article, go to


Aubrie said... .

Wow! That is confusing. Thanks for posting this. *goes to think about it*

March 2, 2010 at 10:12 AM
Caroline Starr Rose said... .

I'm okay with lay and lie if I keep things in the present tense (and this from a former grammar teacher!).

March 2, 2010 at 12:33 PM said... .

Excellent !!


March 10, 2010 at 8:40 AM

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