Lay and Lie are two separate terms in the English language. They differ from each other not only in words of their spelling but also in their pronunciation.
Yet, there is confusion over their usage as their meaning is very much similar.
Both of them are related to a horizontal position. But there is a very hairline difference between them which should be considered before using them.
- “Lay” is a transitive verb, meaning it requires a direct object, and denotes placing or putting something down in a resting position.
- “Lie” is an intransitive verb, meaning it does not require a direct object, and indicates being in a resting position or reclining.
- Using “lay” and “lie” correctly depends on the context and whether an object is being acted upon or a subject is resting.
Lay vs Lie
“Lay” is a transitive verb that requires a direct object and means to put or place something or someone in a horizontal position.“Lie” is an intransitive verb that does not take a direct object and means to recline or be in a horizontal position on its own or without causing an action upon something else.
‘ Lay’ means to place down an object or an individual in a horizontal position. For example, she laid down her bag on the table.
‘Lie’, on the other hand, means to settle down or be in a horizontal position on our own. For example, I can lie down on my own or lie on my bed all day.
|Parameter of Comparison||Lay||Lie|
|Meaning||To place something or someone down in a flat position.||To be or place oneself down in a flat position.|
|Type of Verb||Transitive or Regular Verb.||Intransitive or Irregular Verb.|
|Simple Past Tense||Laid||Lay|
|Homophones||1. Lei: a garland (of flowers)|
2. Ley: a variant of Lea, an open area of arable or grassy land.
|Lye: the liquid obtained from percolated ashes of wood.|
What is meant by Lay?
It refers to putting something or someone down in a resting position. The term is of Germanic origin and corresponds to the Dutch word leggen and the German word legen.
It is mainly used as a verb and needs a direct object. To put it another way, it is a transitive verb.
Apart from the ‘placing something down’ meaning of ‘Lay’, there are a lot of other purposes of ‘lay’ used in different contexts. They are:
- To prepare: Mainly a project or plan etc. For example:
- She laid out the plan of the building.
- To set out or establish: Mainly laws or principles. For example;
- The Preamble lays down the principles enshrined in the Constitution.
- To place a material over another material to cover the latter:
- The floor was laid with carpets.
- To put forward a suggestion or proposal:
- She laid before the board of directors the proposals for the new project.
- To put a stake or to take a risk:
- He won’t come to the party. I can lay money on it.
- To produce and deposit eggs:
- Ducks lay eggs.
- To impose a tax, a punishment, or a command etc. :
- The government has laid a tax on the ownership of property.
- To impute or charge or blame:
- I am aware of the allegations laid against her.
The verb forms of ‘Lay’ is as follows:
- Base Form: Lay
- Simple Past: Laid
- Past Participle: Laid
- Present Participle: Laying
- 3rd Person Singular: Lays
‘Lay’ is also used as a noun and is applied to the following contexts:
- Relationship or arrangement or layout:
- She gives him the lay of the land.
- Used to describe someone’s potential as a sexual partner:
- He has the reputation of being an easy lay.
Another usage of ‘Lay’ is that of an adjective. Accordingly, it is applied to the following two contexts:
- Having no deep knowledge about a specific subject:
- From a lay point of view, they are almost the same.
- Having a temporary and unpaid position in a Church or any other religious organization:
- He was a lay preacher.
What is meant by Lie?
It means to assume or be in a resting position by a person or an object on its own. The term is of Germanic origin and is connected to the Dutch term liggen and the German term liegen.
It is primarily used as a verb which does not require an object. That is to say; it is an irregular or intransitive verb.
As an intransitive verb, it can be applied in the following contexts:
- To rest on a place in the horizontal position (mainly a thing):
- The books were lying open on the bed.
- The phone was lying on the table.
- To be buried in a specific place (a dead person):
- Her body lies in a coffin.
- To be situated or placed:
- The temple lies about 2 km to the west of the railway station.
- At present, Rima is lying in fourth place.
- To be in a particular state or condition:
- The bungalow lies in ruins today.
- The food was lying untouched.
- A charge, action or claim that is sustainable and admissible:
- A motion for restoration would lie for the deed done in contravention of the law.
‘Lie’ also has another meaning: to give false information to deceive someone. For example:
- The nose of Pinocchio grows in size when he lies.
- One can be punished if found lying in a court of law.
The verb forms of ‘Lie’ (to place oneself down) and ‘Lie’ (to give false statements) differ and must be considered while using them in a sentence.
The verb forms of ‘Lie'(recline) are as follows:
- Base Form: Lie.
- Simple Past: Lay
- Past Participle: Lain
- Present Participle: Lying
- 3rd Person Singular: Lies
While the verb forms of ‘Lie’ (to say an untruth) are as follows:
- Base Form: Lie
- Simple Past: Lied
- Past Participle: Lied
- Present Participle: Lying
- 3rd Person Singular: Lies
‘Lie’ is also used as a noun and is applied in different contexts in the following ways:
- The location or direction in which a particular thing lies:
- She was getting acquainted with the lie of the streets.
- A false statement:
- It was clear from her facial expression that she was telling a lie.
- Everything was a lie.
Main Differences Between Lay and Lie
- Lay and Lie have remarkable differences in meaning as both talks about the horizontal position. But the former requires a medium to get something or someone in a flat position. At the same time, the latter does not need a medium to do that. The object or the individual assumes the resting position on its own.
- Lay is a transitive or regular verb. Therefore, it must have an object. But Lie is an intransitive or irregular verb and therefore does not need an object.
- The terms also differ in terms of their pronunciation. While Lay is pronounced as leɪ, Lie is pronounced as laɪ.
- The main reason behind confusing these two words is that the past tense of ‘lay’ is ‘laid’, but that of ‘lie’ is ‘lay’.
- Lay’s homophones are Lei, a garland of flowers, and Ley, an open arable or grassy land. At the same time, Lie has only one homophone, Lye, meaning a liquid procured from the percolated ashes of wood.
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Emma Smith holds an MA degree in English from Irvine Valley College. She has been a Journalist since 2002, writing articles on the English language, Sports, and Law. Read more about me on her bio page.