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Word comparisons

Note 237 – Do you lay or lie on the settee?

I often have to think about this one before I write it.  Does a person lay on the settee or do they lie on it? The answer is, you lie on it.  Richard Lamb in his book The Queen’s English, says “I object when told to lay on the chiropractor’s couch.  Lay what?”.

Before I continue, none of this relates to the word lie when meaning ‘tell a fib’, this post is purely about the meaning of ‘setting something down’ (lay) or the act of ‘reclining/being horizontal’ (lie).

Richard Lamb explains the following:

  • Lay is transitive
  • Lie is intransitive

Note: a transitive verb means that it is taking a direct object that is receiving the action, where as an intransitive verb means that no object is receiving the action.

Present tense

Remember the following when trying to work out the difference: The word ‘lay’ in point 1 below, requires a direct object ‘the table’, where as ‘lie’ in point 2 has no object receiving the action.

  1. you lay the floor tiles
  2. you lie on the floor

Past tense

We’ve established that the present tense for reclining is lie and the present tense for setting something down is lay.  The problem that people (including me) have is that the past tense of lie is lay and the past tense of lay is laid (ahhhh, I hear you say).  So, an example for the past tense for both of these words would be:

  1. She lay on the bed to rest
  2. The hen laid an egg

Past participle

The past participle for lie is lain (I don’t recall using that word before) and the past participle for lay is laid (the same as the past tense).

  1. He has lain in bed for days now
  2. The hen has laid five eggs in total

A useful chart

Quick and Dirty Tips in their blog post ‘Lay Versus Lie’ have created a simple chart to help remember all of this.  They suggest printing it out and putting it on the wall somewhere so that you never have to look it up again.  Here’s something similar below for ease of reference:

Where the present tense is lie (to lie in bed), the following applies:

  • Past tense – lay
  • Past participle – lain

Where the present tense is lay (to lay the table), the following applies:

  • Past tense – laid
  • Past participle – laid

A bit of fun…

Before reading the examples in the full post on The Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips website (if you haven’t already), see if you can think of any songs with the words ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ in the lyrics and work out if they are grammatically correct .  You might even be able to think of some others that they haven’t mentioned.  Let me know how you get on.

Until tomorrow…

Freelance Writer


About Sandra Madeira

I am a full-time working mum with a passion for writing and inspiring others. Subjects I tend to blog about are life skills, parenting, decluttering, worklife balance, etc. At the moment I am on a decluttering mission creating space in my house, garden and mind. I have challenged myself to do at least ten minutes a day and write about it. Have a good day! Sandra Freelance Writer


4 thoughts on “Note 237 – Do you lay or lie on the settee?

  1. Thank you! I’m forever wondering about little details like lay vs. lie, now I can print it out and keep a reference. Thank you for this information!

    Posted by Neeks | December 30, 2011, 2:49 pm


  1. Pingback: Note 283 – There’s no such word as layed « My writing challenge - February 7, 2012

  2. Pingback: By Request: Lay Verses Lie | Jennifer M Eaton - March 10, 2012

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