Misused Words

Lay and Lie

Lay, a verb, means to place something somewhere.

Please lay the book on the table.

Lie, a verb, means to recline.

If I lie on a hard bed, my back will be sore.

Note: To understand these two verbs, you need to know the principal parts of the verbs.

The principal parts of the verbs lay and lie

Present tensePresent participlePast tensePast participle
lie (to recline)lying (reclining)lay (reclined)lain (reclined)
I lie on the couch now.I am lying on the couch.I lay on the couch yesterday.I had lain on the couch last week.
lay (to place)laying (placing)laid (placed)laid (placed)
I lay the book on the table now.I am laying the book on the table.I laid the book on the table yesterday. I had laid the book on the table last week.

The confusing part about this for students is that lay is the past tense of the verb lie (to recline) as well as the present tense of lay (to place).

Practice

Choose the correct answer for each of the two practice sentences below by clicking on the correct answer.

(1) If you don't (lay, lie) on the bed, you won't be able to sleep.

(2) All the students were told to (lay, lie) their pens on their desks until the exam was ready to begin.

Return to Misused Words