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Lie and Lay | Confusing words

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Advanced Level

In this lesson, you will learn the difference between two verbs, “lie” and “lay,” that are commonly confused in English because their forms overlap in the past tense.

The past participle of lay is also seldom used, so people end up forgetting its form.

Meanings and Forms of “Lie”

To lie has two main meanings. Each has different forms.

  1. lie - lied - lied: To deliberately say something that is untrue.
  2. lie - lay - lain: To be in a flat position such as in a bed.

Note that the present participle of both lie and lay are lying.

For the second meaning above, you will often see the verb used as a phrasal verb: lie down, meaning to move from a standing position to a horizontal position on a surface (for example, as when you go to bed at night).

To lie ahead (of someone) is another commonly used phrasal verb. When something lies ahead you, it is or exists in the future.

To lie with (someone or something) is used to say who or what has the blame or responsibility for something.

Examples using “lie” meaning not tell the truth.

  • When do small children learn to lie?
  • John lied to me yesterday. He said he was at work, but he was actually at home.
  • When people say they have never lied in their lives, they’re lying.

Examples using “lie” meaning to be flat on a surface.

  • I found this wallet lying on ground outside. Is it yours by any chance?
  • When you go to the beach, you should lie both on your stomach and on your back so you get an even suntan.
  • I was lying in bed when the earthquake hit last night.
  • I left my glasses lying on the floor, and I accidentally stepped on them.
  • Christine was so sick she lay in bed all day yesterday.
  • I was very lazy last Saturday. I lay in the couch watching TV all day.
  • I have lain sick in bed for the last two days. I’m ready to get up and go for a walk.
  • Note. The above sentence sounds fairly unnatural. English speakers would typically rephrase it as “I have been lying in bed sick for two days...” or simply “I’ve been in bed sick for two days...’”

Other expressions using “lie.”

  • I don’t feel well. I’d better lie down.
  • I lay down right after the guests left.
  • You can always plan for the future, but no one really knows what lies ahead.
  • When we set out on our trip, we had no idea what difficulties lay ahead of us.
  • Marco is really messy. He has dirty clothes and books lying around all over the floor in this apartment.
  • Blame for the power outages lies with the power companies’ lack of investment in infrastructure.
  • A teacher can help students learn, but the responsibility for learning ultimately lies with students themselves.

Meaning and Forms of “Lay”

“To lay” means to put something in a flat or horizontal position. It means to set something down. Its verb forms are

  1. lay - laid - laid

The important thing to remember about “to lay” is that it is a transitive verb, that is, it takes a direct object.

A good way to remember its meaning is to learn it as to lay something.

To lay something down or lay down something means to state something clearly (e.g., rules, standards, requirements, and so on).

To lay eyes on something is a different way of saying to see or look at something.

When you lay something aside or lay aside something, you put something to the side. It also means that you reject something or save it for later use.

When employers do not have enough work for their employees to do, the employers lay them off.

In informal English, to lay off someone also means to stop bothering them or giving them a hard time about something.

To lay something out or lay out something means to arrange something (as if on a surface) so that it is organized or arranged in a particular pattern.

Examples using “lay” .

  • I want to show you my drawings. Let me lay them on the table so you can see them.
  • I need to lay the pie on the counter to let it cool.
  • Chickens stop laying eggs if they are not getting enough sunlight.
  • My grandmother has laid flowers on my grandfather’s grave every year since he passed away.
  • I fell asleep as soon as I laid my head on the pillow last night.
  • The president of the company made a terrible mistake and laid the blame on his employees.
  • The students laid their papers on the professor’s desk as they arrived for class.

In Summary

Remember the following:

  • lie - lied - lied: To say something that is untrue.
  • lie - lay - lain: To be in a flat or horizontal position.
  • lay - laid - laid: To put something in a flat or horizontal position.
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