The verbs to lie and to lay cause many people a lot of confusion, and not without good reason. The verb to lie has an additional meaning which is to tell an untruth, but that’s a whole different matter, believe me.
So, the verb to lie is an intransitive verb which means it does not take an object. All it requires is a subject, that is someone to actually do the lying. It describes either the act of moving from an upright to a horizontal position, or the state of being in a horizontal position. Here are some examples:
- I lie down.
- He lies down.
- I am lying on the ground.
- I lay down.
- He lay down.
- I was lying on the ground.
- He has lain buried for over a century.
- Lie down!
- Lie still!
To lay, on the other hand, is a transitive verb which means that it must take an object. For example:
- Hens lay eggs.
- I lay the rug on the floor.
- He lays the table for dinner.
- The builders are laying the new carpet.
- Yesterday, the hens laid twenty-four eggs.
- I laid the rug on the floor.
- He laid the table for dinner.
- The builders were laying the new carpet.
- The builders laid the new carpet.
- The builders have laid the new carpet.
- Lay down your arms!
I think the main difficulty arises from the fact that the past tense of to lie is lay. But there you go, that’s English for you.
Here are some sentences that use both verbs:
- I lay the table for dinner and then I lie down for a rest before the guests arrive.
- I laid the table for dinner and then I lay down for a rest…
- After I have laid the table I will lie down for a rest…