Should I use lay or lie? In today’s lesson, we’re going to learn the grammar of the two most difficult English verbs, which are ‘lay’ and ‘lie’. Even native speakers struggle with these confusing words, using the incorrect form of the verb a lot of the time. By the end of this English grammar lesson, you will remove these common mistakes from your English.
The video lesson below explains when to use ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ in brief. Additional explanations for each example sentence are included in the lesson article below the video. For advanced sentences containing ‘lay’ and ‘lie’, please refer to the bottom section of the article.
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Common Mistakes Lay / Lie: Does It Matter?
Before we look at lay or lie common mistakes, it’s necessary to explain that they are extremely common in the speech of native speakers. This is because most people don’t speak Standard English, which is the dialect of English which follows all of the grammatical rules. Consequently, most native speakers will not even be aware that they are making grammatical mistakes with these verbs.
Correctly using the verbs ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ when speaking informal English isn’t as important as it is when writing formal English. Though it may seem like a small thing, correctly using these verbs in your written English signals that you have been properly educated. People who understand the grammar will notice it. Lastly, I encourage you to ignore anybody who tells you that grammatical rules of English don’t matter because ‘language constantly evolves’. People who say such things are merely advocating low standards for you.
Common mistakes using the verb ‘lie’
laid in bed.
The mistake here is laid. This is a past simple sentence, which means it happened before. The verb should be lay.
Yesterday I lay in bed. ✔️
Another common mistake is:
The cat is
laying on the mat.
The incorrect verb is laying. It should be lying. This sentence contains a mistake because the incorrect verb is being used (
lay instead of lie).
The cat is lying on the mat. ✔️
Our next example is:
lay still. Don’t move.
This is something that a doctor might say to a patient. But most likely not, as the above sentence is grammatically incorrect. It should be:
Please lie still. Don’t move. ✔️
Our final example is:
lay on the grass.
The above example is a future simple sentence. It should not be lay; it should be lie.
I will lie on the grass. ✔️
How to use the verb ‘lay’ correctly
‘Lay’ is the easier verb, which doesn’t cause as many common mistakes. Another very important thing about this verb is that it always needs an object. This is why the sentence, ‘
The cat is laying on the mat‘ is grammatically incorrect (it doesn’t have an object). In contrast, the unlikely sentence, ‘The cat is laying his mouse on the mat’ is grammatically correct (the object is ‘his mouse’).
We use ‘lay’ when something is put somewhere. For example, you lay knives and forks on the table. You lay the baby in its cot. The second use of lay is to do with construction: builders lay bricks, carpet, and tiles. Finally, the third use of lay is to do with eggs. Hens lay eggs.
The verb forms of ‘lay’:
1st person present tense → lay
3rd person present tense → lays
present participle → laying
past simple tense → laid
past participle → laid
Now for some grammatically correct example sentences using ‘lay’. Extra notes are included to help you understand the meaning.
I lay the table. ▶︎ The present simple is used for a duty.
The builder is laying concrete. ▶︎ The present continuous is used to describe things that are happening now. Note that using the passive is more natural in the above example; “Concrete is being laid by the builder”.
The hen laid an egg. ▶︎ The past simple is used to report a fact.
Mary has laid the table. ▶︎ The present perfect is used for events that happened in the past, which still have an effect on the present.
Next, we will turn our attention to the verb which results in the most common mistakes…
How to use the verb ‘lie’ correctly
We use ‘lie’ when we’re talking about resting somewhere. We also use it in a very formal sense to talk about when something is located somewhere. To help us be more confident in using this verb, here are some nouns that we can associate it with:
- You lie in bed.
- You lie on a towel.
- You lie in a hammock.
- You lie on the sofa.
- You lie on the grass.
- You lie in the sun when you’re sunbathing.
- You lie on the floor after a yoga class.
The verb forms of ‘lie’:
1st person present tense → lie
3rd person present tense → lies
present participle → lying
past simple tense → lay
past participle → lain
I lie in bed all day. ▶︎ The present simple is used for repeated actions. A person who has been sick for a long time might say this sentence.
The key lies on the desk. ▶︎ Note that this sentence is a very formal way of saying, ‘The key is on the desk’. You might encounter this formal example when reading a fantasy novel.
We are lying on the bed. ▶︎ The present continuous sentence is used to describe things that are happening now.
Tom lay in bed for hours. ▶︎ The past simple is used to report something that happened in the past. Note that the common mistake here is, “
Tom laid in bed for hours“.
I have lain awake for hours. ▶︎ The present perfect is used for an action or event which started in the past and continues in the present. This sentence would be used in a situation where you could not fall asleep.
Should I Use “Lay” or “Lie”? Advanced Example Sentences
Finally, we will go over some advanced example sentences using these difficult verbs. If you are struggling to form a complex sentence, you may find the follow examples and explanations helpful.
Warning! Only advanced-level students should read beyond this point. This is because these challenging examples could result in information overload for you…
Extra Advanced Examples “Lie”
You must lie still during a CT scan. ▶︎ This is an example of ‘must’ used in the present simple. This sentence expresses an obligation / necessity.
The injured man lay still and waited for help. ▶︎ The past simple is used to report events that happened in the past. Note that this tense is used a lot in novels for narrating past events.
The ring had lain at the bottom of a riverbed for 2500 years before a hobbit named Déagol found it. ▶︎ The past perfect is used when two events happened in the past, and it is necessary to make clear that one happened before the other.
Boats lie at anchor in the harbour. ▶︎ The present simple is used for statements that are generally true. Note that ‘lie at anchor’ is an expression that describes the action of a boat waiting in a harbour.
I’m going to lie (down) in the sun. ▶︎ ‘Going to’ is a special structure that is used for talking about future plans or actions. The infinitive form of the verb always following ‘going’. The infinitive form of the verb ‘lie’ is ‘to lie’. Therefore, it is a common mistake to say, ‘
I’m going to lay (down) in the sun‘.
Person A: “Where’s Rick?” Person B: “He went to lie down”. ▶︎ This is a past simple sentence in which the verb ‘go’ is followed by an infinitive. The infinitive form of the verb ‘lie’ is ‘to lie’. Therefore, it is a common mistake to say, “
He went to lay down.”
Using ‘Lay’ Extra Advanced Examples
My favourite hen lays two eggs per day. ▶︎ Present simple for reporting a fact.
I lay my clothes on the bed before getting dressed. ▶︎ Present simple is used for habits.
Lay your head on my shoulder. ▶︎ This is the imperative form of the present simple (the subject is omitted), which is used for requests.
The undertaker laid the coffin in the grave. ▶︎ The past simple is used for a completed past action.
Have you laid the table yet? ▶︎ This is the question form of the present perfect.
Thanks for studying today’s lesson and for improving your English grammar with me.
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