Is it to lie or to lay?

Lay, lie, laying, lain, etc. always get mixed up. It’s hard to keep them straight since they’re so similar. So, I’m going to break them down with some examples that’ll hopefully clear everything up.


To lay means to put or set something down. The character has a thing in their hand and places it somewhere. Remember that an object is involved. Here is lay in all its forms with examples:

Present tense: lay

  • I lay the book on the bookshelf.
  • She lays her phone on the desk.

Past tense: laid

  • I laid my bill on the corner of my desk to deal with it later.
  • Rani laid the receipt on the table beside me and raised an eyebrow.

Past participle: laid

  • I thought I had laid the blanket on my couch.
  • Ziv had laid my glasses down somewhere.

Present particle: laying

  • I pass by my desk, laying the book down.
  • James, laying out a blanket, prepares our picnic.


To lie means to recline. For example, the character leans back by themselves. No object is involved. Here is lie in all its forms with examples:

Present tense: lie

  • I lie on my bed with my feet off the edge.
  • The dogs lie on the couch.

Past tense: lay

  • I lay on my bed.
  • Edith lays on my couch with their feet up.

Past participle: lain

  • I had lain there for two minutes before my dog barked.
  • Kali had lain on the couch for the past seven hours, refusing to move.

Present particle: lying

  • Lying on my bed, I scroll through my phone.
  • Persephone, lying on zir chair, waves me over.

So, as a recap, to lay is to set something down.

  • lay
  • laid
  • (had) laid
  • laying

And to lie is to recline.

  • lie
  • lay
  • (had) lain
  • lying

They’re hard to keep up with. Even as an editor, I sometimes have to look them up and double check. But I hope this helps clear anything up! You can always check back here if you need to. Or you can download the helpful cheat sheet I made below.

This was originally posted on my editing blog.

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