A quick primer on the past tense forms of ‘lay’ and ‘lie’

The fact that ‘lay’ is the past tense of ‘lie’ has created confusion for many, be they native speakers of English or those learning it as a foreign language. Here’s some help.

Two verbs that give many native speakers fits are to lay and to lie.

Remember that lay is transitive and lie is intransitive. This post focuses on mistaken spellings of the past tense forms of lay and lie.

The principal tenses of lay (to place) are lay, laid, (has) laid:

Please lay the books on the table in my office. (present)
We laid the key on the counter. (simple past)
You have laid the wrong pattern on the worktable. (past perfect)

The principal tenses of lie (to recline) are lie, lay, (has) lain.

Lie down, Fido. (present)
He lay in bed all day. (simple past)
He has lain there long enough. (past perfect)

Here are some typical errors:

INCORRECT: As soon as the children laid down on the soft quilt, they fell asleep.
CORRECT: As soon as the children lay down on the soft quilt, they fell asleep.

INCORRECT: That is the coolest fish tank I have ever layed eyes on.
CORRECT: That is the coolest fish tank I have ever laid eyes on.

INCORRECT: She lay the baby on her stomach next to him, thankful she didn’t wake.
CORRECT: She laid the baby on her stomach next to him, thankful she didn’t wake.

The past tense of the verb lay that refers to egg production is also spelled laid:

INCORRECT: About a month ago she layed eggs for a week, then stopped.
CORRECT: About a month ago she laid eggs for a week, then stopped.

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A version of this article first appeared on DailyWritingTips.

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