To lie vs. to lay
On November 6, 2017 | 0 Comments | Grammar tips, Writing tips |

When I was in high school, people used to say “laying out” when referring to catching rays at the pool or the beach. At the time I remember thinking they should have worn sunscreen, but it didn’t occur to me that they also should have said “lying out.” But now I know better!

I still hear this mistake frequently, so I thought it was worth a blog post about the difference between lay and lie.

To lay requires a direct object (you lay something down/out):

  • Every morning I lay the envelope on the desk so he can see it.
  • I always lay a towel on the floor to prevent water from getting all over the bathroom.
  • It’s smart to lay out a plan of action before every game.

The past tense of to lay is laid:

  • Every morning I laid the envelope on the desk so he could see it.
  • I always laid a towel on the floor to prevent water from getting all over the bathroom.
  • She laid out a plan of action before every game.

To lie doesn’t have a direct object:

  • Every evening I lie on my bed and think about grammar.
  • Even though it’s bad for her skin, she lies out in the sun.
  • She needs a game plan to keep her team from lying down and losing.

Now here’s where it gets confusing–the past tense of to lie is lay:

  • Every evening last summer I lay on my bed and thought about grammar.
  • Even though she knew it was bad for her skin, she lay out in the sun for hours every day.
  • Despite the game plan, her team lay down and lost.

To summarize:

  • Today you lie on your bed.
  • Today you lay your head on your pillow.
  • Yesterday you lay on your bed.
  • Yesterday you laid your head on your pillow.

I realize what a head-scratcher this can be, so if after reading this post you want to go lie down and lay your head on a pillow, I won’t blame you!



This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2017 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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