Lay or Lie – What’s the Difference?

Lay Or Lie, Laid Off Or Layed Off, Lay-In Or Lie In Bed – Which Is Right?

Words such as lay, lie, laid, lay, and lied might sound alike but that doesn’t mean they mean the same thing. Here’s how to use each one with confidence and get it right every time.

English is seemingly full of contradictions, and it doesn’t help that informal spoken language often allows for grammatical errors. This can be seen in the way people frequently confuse lay and lie and variations thereof.

Let’s start with Lay or Lie

While both lay and lie relate to something or someone resting in a flat position, there are a few things you need to know to ensure you are using them correctly. 

Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that it requires a direct object.

Lie is an intransitive verb, meaning that it doesn’t require a direct object.

For example, I can lay a plate on the table, but I lie in bed. One is an action I perform on something else, while the other is the act of reclining my body.

When to Use Lay

In English, we use ‘lay’ if we’re talking about a specific object. Here are a few examples:

“William lays the pencil on his desk.”

Here, William is the subject and the pencil is the direct object that receives William’s action.

If I take away the direct object (in this case, the pencil) this sentence wouldn’t make sense, as we wouldn’t know what William has laid down.

I could use ‘lay’ to describe my own body, but I would need to make it clear that I’m laying my body down. For example: “I lay myself down on the sunlounger.”

A past participle is simply a term for the verb form used when an action has happened in the past, for example, the past participle of ‘lay’ is laid. The present participle (the verb form used when the action is happening) is laying.

For example:

“I lay the book on the table.”

“I’m laying the slabs on the patio.”

“I’ve laid out your suit on the bed.”

When to Use Lie

We use ‘lie’ in English when we’re talking about resting or reclining onto something. ‘Lie’ is an intransitive verb, which means it’s a verb that doesn’t need a direct object. 

For example:

“I lie on the bed.”

Other examples include:

“I enjoy having a lie-in on weekends.”

“I lie awake at night thinking.”

Here, ‘I’ acts as the subject as I’m describing how my body is positioned. It’s already implied that my body is reclined, so I don’t have to indicate that I am lying down. The listener/reader will already know that I mean my body is reclined.

The past participle of ‘lie’ is ‘laid’ and ‘lying’ is used when the action is in progress. Here are a few examples:

“I’m going to lie down on my bed.”

“She had lain in that position for too long.”

“I am lying down on the bed.”

To lie can also mean to say something that isn’t true. In this case, the past participle of ‘lie’ is’ lied’ and lying is the action of telling a lie. Examples include:

“I told a lie.”

“She lied.”

“I knew she was lying to me.”

Now you’re clear on how to use lay and lie, let’s take a look at other similar words – ‘layed off’ vs ‘laid off.’

Is It Layed Off or Laid Off?

Again, this may appear confusing but is quite straightforward once explained.

If you remember, a past participle is the verb form used when the action is in the past. The past participle of “lay” is laid. Laid is pronounced ‘layed’ but ‘laid’ is the correct spelling.

For example:

If the company you work for terminates your contract you have been ‘laid off.’ 

“The hen laid an egg.”


‘Lay’ and ‘lie’ are often confused and it’s easy to see why!  The easiest way to remember the difference is ‘lay’ is the action carried out on an object and ‘lie’ is the act of reclining or saying something untrue.

Remember: It’s lay, laid, and lain and lie, lying and lied.

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About Gemma Wright

I'm Gemma Wright, co-owner of ProCopyTips and a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. Having worked as a PR Manager for large financial services companies in the UK, I now focus on helping small and growing businesses to thrive through the power of effective communications.

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