To Lay or Lie?

This blog article may be useful for both native speakers and those who are new to the English language. It starts with asking a very important question…

Do we lay down or lie down for a nap?

That is a pretty good question and one that is worth pondering every afternoon.

Once you finish reading this article, you are never going to forget which to use and when.

Let’s start with the basics and look at LAY and LIE as base present tense verbs as that is where things are most confusing and when people use them incorrectly. We will include different tenses, but if that overwhelms you then just focus on taking away the most basic message from this lesson. 


To LAY means to put (or place) something down and it requires an object.


Frank (subject) laid his glasses (object) on his bedside table when he had finished reading.

Frank (subject) lays his dirty underwear (object) on the ever-growing laundry pile.

To LAY means to put someone down for a nap or bedtime and requires a someone.


Frank (subject) knew it was time to lay his guinea pig (object) back into its cage when it bit him.

When Frank (object) gets cranky and spits his food out, I (subject) know it is time to lay him down for a nap.

How to use the verb LAY in different tenses:

present tense → LAY(s)

past tense → LAID

past participle → LAID

present participle → LAYING


To lie can mean to not tell the truth about something. This is not the definition that people get confused with LAY, however.

To LIE also means to lie in a horizontal or resting position. LIE is used without an object as the subject is the one doing the resting.


On rainy mornings I (subject) lie on my bed and listen to the sound of the water hitting the skylight.

I (subject) was lying down in my tent reading when I heard a bear sniffing at the door.

How to use the verb LIE in different tenses:

present tense → LIE(s)

past tense → LAY

past participle → LAIN

present participle → LYING

Why is the past tense of LIE, LAY and not LIED? 

This part may sound extra confusing ..but hear this out. LIED is only used in the past tense when we are using the verb lie when it means “to tell a fib” (or a false statement). Lay NEEDS an object in the present tense BUT can be used in the PAST TENSE if the subject is the one doing the lazying around. 


Lay and laid BOTH mean –> to set something down

Lie, lay and lain ALL mean —> subject is setting itself down

…So tell us in the comments, will you be laying or lying down for a nap after reading this?

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