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By Judy Vorfeld

Have you ever seen peo­ple get into a heated argu­ment over the right use of the words “lay” and “lie”? It happens.

LAY is a verb mean­ing “to put” or “to place,” and needs an object to com­plete its mean­ing. (Lay, laid, laying.)


  • She lay the gift bas­ket on the cof­fee table.
  • She had laid sev­eral gift bas­kets in the same area.
  • The book­keeper is always lay­ing the blame on the controller.
  • The tech man­ual was laid in the box.

Use lay when you set or put some­thing down (book, food, etc.);
place in a rest­ing posi­tion (baby for a nap); bury some­one or some­thing (they laid the body in the fam­ily plot); place, arrange, or spread some­thing on, over, or along a sur­face (as in lay­ing car­pet or linoleum); press some­thing flat (dog laid back its ears); and pre­pare for a fire (lay a fire).

It’s also what chick­ens do (lay eggs) and what gam­blers do (place or lay a bet).

LIE is a verb mean­ing “to rest,” “to recline,” “to stay,” or “to be located some­where,” and it can­not take an object. It also means to be buried, to be in a par­tic­u­lar con­di­tion or state, to be in a par­tic­u­lar direc­tion, to be in store (or still to come), or to stay undis­turbed (let sleep­ing dogs lie).

(Lie, lay, lain, lying.) “Lie” gen­er­ally refers to a per­son or an object as get­ting into a reclin­ing posi­tion or already being in that posi­tion. It also meant the oppo­site of truth, but not for this exercise.


  • The city lies beneath the soar­ing sil­ver aircraft.
  • The gold lay hid­den for 130 years.
  • Since his stroke, he lies in bed all the time.
  • The col­lege entrance exam has lain unan­swered for a week.
  • Pinnacle Peak lay ahead of us as we headed toward the restaurant.
  • Jody’s glasses are lying on the kitchen counter.

A good way to decide whether to use “lie” or “lay” is to sub­sti­tute the word “place” (or plac­ing, or placed) for what­ever word is in ques­tion. If it fits, use “lay” or one of its forms.
Otherwise, use “lie” or one of its forms.

With guid­ance from The Gregg Reference Manual by Sabin, and Encarta® World English Dictionary ©


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