The words lie or lay seem to cause problems for people. How do you know when to use which one? Let’s see if we can clear it up a little bit.
Lay (lay, laid, laying) means “to put” or “to place.” Because it’s a verb (action word) it requires an object to complete the meaning:
- Please lay the groceries on the counter.
- She laid her resignation letter on the boss’s desk.
- He is always laying his schoolbooks on the kitchen table.
Lie (lie, lay, lain, lying) means “to recline, rest, or stay” or “to take a position of rest.” Unlike lay, which requires it, lie cannot take an object.
- She said she was going to lie on the bed to test the mattress.
- The pleading was lying on his desk for him to sign.
A way to remember the difference is that if you can replace the questionable lie or lay with place (or the correct version of it), then you need to use the correct version of lay. If it doesn’t, use the correct version of lie.
- She wanted to (lay or lie) down for a nap. Would you say “She wanted to place down for a nap.”? No! So the proper word would be lie.
- He (laid or lay) the coffee on his secretary’s desk. Is it “He placed the coffee on his secretary’s desk.”? Yes! Then laid is correct.
Another reminder hint might be if you are going to plAce something, then you are going to lAy it, but if you are going to rEst, you are going to liE.