Using Lay vs Lie in a Sentence: A Definitive Guide

March 21, 2019
If you were to list out the job titles that you’d expect to see working at Rosh Review, I’m guessing Copy Editor wouldn’t be at the top of your list (or anywhere on it, for that matter). Surprise! Rosh Review has a team of editors who ensure that the content our users learn from is as polished as possible. One of my side projects has been writing grammar and writing tips for our authors—things that might pop up in their day-to-day projects, whether for work, school, or just for fun. These tips started making their way to all of our staff and were dubbed “Laura’s Lessons.” Now, they’re going public. Some of these posts may be rehashing grammar “rules” you learned in grade school, some may be new information, and some may seem like no-brainers, but hopefully you’ll find them helpful or, at the very least, somewhat entertaining.

In this post, I’m tackling two commonly interchanged terms that eluded me for many years until recently. They are the bane of most writers’ (or maybe just my) existence: lay and lie. I used to look up the difference EVERY SINGLE TIME until I searched for a mnemonic to help me keep them straight.

To lay is to place, put, or set down something. The key here is something—there’s always an object that’s being placed.

She lay her pen down after two hours of taking notes for her emegency medicine shelf exam.

The pen is the object

I mentioned that I desperately needed a mnemonic so I didn’t have to keep double-checking I was using the correct word. Enter grammar guru Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl. Her trick that works best for me is to think of the phrase “lay it on me.” You could also think of “lay it on thick.” The use of it after “lay” helps me remember that lay should involve an object, an “it.”

To lie, on the other hand, is to rest in a horizontal position, and it doesn’t take an object—lie doesn’t need an “it.” To lie can also mean to tell an untruth (it’s one of those fun homographs, or a word whose same spelling has multiple meanings), but luckily we don’t use “lay” to refer to false statements. So, when you want your dog to rest horizontally, you should tell it to go lie down (one of the few commands my dog, Arthur, understands).

I spent a full day doing family medicine board review, so I’m going to lie in bed for at least 12 hours.

Once you get those two nailed down and you’re feeling great about the present tense, past tenses and participles step in and mess everything up. Why? Because the past tense of lie is…lay.

Last night, I lay on the couch and binged TV for five hours straight.

Whose bright idea was this? I don’t know, but it’s confusing, so I’ve created a table for you to reference if needed (I still use this when I’m not writing in the present tense).

Enjoy! And if you’re ever dreaming of lying in a sunny field, make sure you lay down a blanket.

By Laura Wilkinson

Categories: Laura's Lessons ,

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