Laying or Lying

The verbs “to lie” (to recline),“to lie” (to deceive) and “to lay” confuse many English speakers, as they share the same word for different tenses.

To lay

“To lay” means to put something down carefully. Its tense forms can cause some confusion.

Present: (to) lay/lays

Past: laid

-ing form: laying

Participle: has/had laid

This verb must have an object, or an adverb. You must lay something somewhere, even if it is yourself. If the verb stands alone, for example “she lies” or “he is lying” then it must refer to Lie (2) below.

For Example:

“My sister is laying the table for dinner.” “Laying the table” is the phrase that means to carefully put the plate and cutlery on the table ready for dinner.

“The chicken is laying an egg.” This refers to a chicken giving birth, and the fact that the egg is placed straight on the ground.

“We lay some logs in the old, open fireplace.” Here, the implication is that the logs were placed with care, not thrown hurriedly.

“He has been laid to rest.” The term “laid to rest” means to be buried in English, and is used as the body is placed carefully in the ground.

“She had laid everything out perfectly.” Here, whatever the woman is placing is important to her, and she is taking care to make sure it is done right.

To lie (1)

To lie(when not talking about deceit) means to move your body to a horizontal position, as if for sleeping. The term “to lie down” is a common expression in English. Confusion with the verb “to lay” can come about from the different tenses of “to lie”.

Present: (to) lie/lies

Past: lay

-ing form: lying

Participle: has/had lain

Although “lain” is grammatically correct, it is considered old-fashioned now and rarely used.

For example:

“She doesn’t feel well, she’s lying down.” Here, the present continuous tense with the adverb “down” shows the woman is in bed, not telling lies.

“The dog lay in his basket.” The dog is resting.

“His book was left lying open in the library.” Here, “lying” must be used, as “left”- the past tense of to leave in this instance- implies carelessness in English, so it cannot be “laid”. The book is in the horizontal position-not upright as it would be in a bookcase, so again we use “lying”.

“I had to lie down for three weeks after I hurt my back.” This person had to remain in a horizontal position for three weeks, probably in a bed.

To quote Shakespeare: “Thou hast quarreled with a man for coughing in the street because he hath wakened thy dog that hath lain asleep in the sun. ” This old-fashioned sentence means the dog was lying asleep in the sun.

To lie (2)

Although the spelling is the same, this time, it means to be untruthful, to tell a lie.

Present: lie/lies

Past: lied

-ing form: lying

Participle: has/had lied

For example:

““It’s wrong to tell lies,” said her mother.” Here, the mother is angry her son or daughter told a lie.

“You’re lying! Tell me the truth.” There is no object here, so it must mean to be deceitful.

“I’m twenty-one,” she lied. Again, there is no object, so this must mean to be untruthful.

“You can’t believe Mike, he lies about everything.” This present simple form is clear from the rest of the sentence.

“I have lied, but only to protect other people's feelings.” “Have lied” is the past participle of the verb “to lie”, or to be deceitful, not any of the others.


“To lay” in the present tense means to put something down carefully, but if you are talking about the past, it means “to lie down”.


Complete the sentences with laying / lying -Answers below.

1. Suzie picked up her favourite book and __________ back on the sofa.

2.“You _________ the table every Sunday when you were little,” my grandma told me.

3. “I’ve got a stomach ache, I’m going to ________ down.”

4. “I’m not ________, I’m telling the truth..

5. “I found the cat!” cried Paul, “she’s ___________ on my bed.”


1.lay, 2.laid, 3.lie, 4.lying, 5. lying