Write Right: Lay versus Lie

Write RightI’ll confess that “lay” and “lie” often get the better of me. I’ve always struggled to keep the two words straight. When confronted with a sentence that could use either “lay” or “lie,” I try to find a substitute so that I don’t have to waver between the two words.

To “lay” something means to “put” or “place” something. I worded that sentence without any problem; the trick was to begin the sentence with a preposition. Since prepositions typically require a direct object, “lay” does, too. In fact, “lay” always requires a direct object because one does not put or place nothing. One puts or places something.

To “lie” means to “recline” or to “be situated.” A person can recline, and a person can be situated. The word “lie,” then, does not require a direct object. It merely requires a subject to use the word as a verb.

All is well and good until a person starts to use the different verb forms of the words. The main forms of “lay” are “lay, laid, and laid.” The main forms of “lie” are “lie, lay, and lain.” Ah, confusion. One of the forms of “lie” is the main form of “lay.” The way to remember which word is correct is to notice whether the word is followed by an object:

We [lay/laid] in the sun all day.

We [lay/laid] the tablecloth on the table.

Did you decide which word was the correct one in the example sentences? Have any suggestions for keeping the two words straight? Also, if you have any grammar, spelling, or punctuation questions, let me know on the Write Right Facebook page.


  1. Thank you for fighting the battle of lie vs lay but….after careful reading….I am STILL confused.  I think that from now on, whenever I write something that contains this conflict, I will send it to you for proofing.  Then I don’t have to learn about the families of lay and lie ;-)You are brilliant, BTW!xoxoClaudia

    • SocialMediaDDS That works. You can keep me on retainer. :)Was the post itself confusing? I didn’t mean to add to the confusion. I may have to go back and revise if it was.Thank you for saying I’m brilliant. Words of good cheer encourage the heart.

      • Erin F. SocialMediaDDS The post was not confusing at all…my brain is the problem.  As much as I like to think of myself as a word nerd, when it comes to the details of the rules of grammar, I am a complete dork.  It’s like my brain shuts down.  I am grateful for your brilliance 😉

        • SocialMediaDDS …and my brain thrives on it! Someone said I was using too many passive verbs in an article. I felt so ashamed that I researched passive verbs and found myself confused because my verbs weren’t passive ones. It turns out they were progressive ones. 😛 I don’t know why I have such a fascination with words and how they work. I just do.

  2. The only way I remember is that “only people LIE”, objects never tells lies. Doesn’t help with the more complicated versions though.


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