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“To Lie” vs. “To Lay”

What to tell your pet.

Ellen Jovin

The verbs "to lie” and "to lay” cause a whole lot of confusion. (This discussion focuses on “to lie” in the sense of “to lie down,” not in the sense of deceiving others.) Although "to lie” and "to lay” have related meanings, they are in fact two different verbs with different forms.

“To lie” is an intransitive verb. That means it cannot take a direct transitive and thus requires a direct object. Take a look at this table, where "to lay” is followed by "book” and "to lie” has no object.

As you can see in the table above, the past tense of "to lie” looks annoyingly like the present tense of "to lay.” That similarity is the source of many of the “lie”/“lay” mix-ups. It would be incorrect to say “I laid down on my bed,” because the verb you want is "to lie,” and the past tense of "to lie” is "lay.”

Also, don’t tell your dog, “Lay down,” or you risk teaching your pet bad grammar! The correct command is “Lie down.”