Monday, January 24, 2011

Grammar Geek Tutorial: lie/lay/laid

I had a couple of requests for an explanation of lay/laid/lie.  Just in case there are any other closet grammar freaks or geeks out there, here you go. 

Disclaimer:  I don't formally know much about grammar--I just have a pretty good (read: not perfect) instinct for it.  This also means I don't know the names for things (participles, perfect tense, etc.).  Please feel free to leave any input.

In this instance, we're dealing with two different concepts:  the act of putting an object down and the act of reclining.  

Lay: To set down an object

  • Present tense:  Lay the cookies on the table.
  • Past tense:  Yesterday, I laid the cookies on the table.

Lie: To rest or recline

  • Present tense: I think I'll eat a cookie and go lie down.
  • Past tense:  I lay down yesterday after eating five cookies. (*note: the past tense is not "laid."  To help yourself remember, think of "laid an egg": eggs are not laid by people)
  • Crazy past tense:  I had lain down to recover from a stomachache, just as I have lain in the past.  (But let's be honest--who talks like that?)

So, to sum up, the past tense of lay is laid: used when talking about objects.  The past tense of lie is lay: used when talking about reclining.  The tricky thing about these forms, obviously, is the dual use of lay.

Try thinking of it this way: lay is an action word, lie is a resting word (e.g. "lying around").  Or, to rephrase, once you lay (put) something down, it lies (rests/reclines) there.

Need something else to chew on?  "Laid," often mistakenly substituted for "lay,"  is also frequently misspelled "layed."  "Layed" is not actually a word.

Practice if you care, don't fret if you don't--99% of people won't even notice.   


  1. Very helpful, thank you! I have been misusing the past tense of lie for a long time!

  2. Awesome, I totally needed this! haha.

  3. oh my goodness. I'm glad some people know this stuff. Jay was just talking about how smart you are today, and I have no doubt about that!

  4. Wow. My brain just exploded reading about the lay the lie and the laid and the lain...etc. But cool anyway -- I needed this! I'll keep reading this over and over again to get the perfect feel of how to speak engrish gooder. Thanks girl!

  5. This is so awesome. I always had the hardest time with lay, laid, and lie. This completely makes sense! It's a good thing I know this gal named Lindsay that can sum it up for me.

  6. wow, thanks. that actually made sense. exhausting though. I'd better go lay down. (jk ;)