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, Ninth Edition, by Sabin, and Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (1999, 2000 Microsoft Corporation).