lay / lie

This is the technical difference between lay and lie:

You lay an object onto a surface.

  • Could you lay those mats on the floor, please?
  • She laid the books on the table.
  • The workers are laying the carpet in the new building.

    Again, you lay an object onto a surface. But a person/thing lies (itself) on the surface:

  • There was a package lying on my doorstep.
  • The clothes are lying all over the floor.

    For a person, to lie + a preposition of place means to put yourself horizontally on a surface:

  • I’m feeling sick. I need to lie down.
  • She’s lying on a towel on the beach.

    Now… to complicate matters – the past tense of lie is lay!

    Present Continuous Past Past Participle



    Also, native English speakers often say “I need to lay down” and “She’s laying on a towel on the beach.” – even though it’s incorrect!

    To summarize:

  • You lay an object on a surface.

    We laid the flowers on the grave.

  • You lie (yourself) on a surface.

    He’s just lying there on the couch watching TV.

  • An object lies on a surface.

    There was an abandoned bicycle lying on the sidewalk.

    This lesson refers to the meaning of “lie” as an object lying on a surface. There’s another meaning for “lie”: to say something that isn’t true. In this case, the past and past participle would be lied and lied:

  • The little boy ate the cookies, then lied and said his sister had eaten them.
  • I trust her completely; she has never lied to me.