Confusing verbs: lay & lie

In response to a recent question from several of my students, here’s a grammar post about two confusing verbs: lie and lay. (Actually, it’s three verbs, but we’ll come to that later.)


‘To lay’ means to put something down. It is followed by a direct object, i.e. it’s a transitive verb—after it we have to use a noun or a pronoun.

Take this blanket and lay it on the ground.

Its Simple Past and Past Participle form is LAID:

He laid the books on the table.

We have laid the foundation for our future cooperation.

The Present Participle, which we use to form all continuous tenses is LAYING:

We are laying down new rules.

This verb is often used with different prepositions, forming phrasal verbs with various meanings. Here are a few examples:

  • to lay down: to define and implement a rule; to put something down
  • to lay off: to make someone redundant
  • to lay over: to stop somewhere for a short time during a journey
  • to lay up: be / stay inactive due to illness or injury


‘To lie’ means to be in a horizontal position. It is not followed by a direct object, i.e. it’s an intransitive verb.

I feel very sleepy. I’m going to lie down. 

BE CAREFUL: the Simple Past form is LAY – same as the infinitive / present tense of ‘to lay’:

He lay in bed all day because he was unwell.

The Past Participle form is LAIN:

She had lain on the sofa for some time before she got up.

The Present Participle is LYING:

How long have you been lying in the sun? Your skin is so red!

This verb is also used to make a number of phrasal verbs, some of which are very frequent, such as:

  • to lie around: to leave something out of place; spend time relaxing, not doing anything
  • to lie ahead: to happen in the future
  • to lie in: to stay in bed later than usual

TO LIE = to deceive

Finally, there’s the verb ‘to lie’, meaning to say something untrue in order to deceive. This verb is regular (just be careful with spelling): its Past Simple and Past Participle is LIED, and the Present Participle is LYING.

Stop lying to me!

I have never lied to anyone.

To recap, here’s the overview of the main forms of these three verbs:

You can now practise these verbs a bit using the online grammar exercise I’ve prepared on this topic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: