Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

lie, lay, lain in English

Do you get confused between the words “lay,” “lie,” “laid,” and “lain”?

Even native speakers make mistakes with these words because they are confusing!

Today we are going to finally clear up your confusion so that you can use these words with confidence.

Here is a question from a listener:


Hi Lindsay!

Very appreciate your podcast, wonderful job!

Will you please devote some episode to the verbs to lie and to lay?

These two words are close in writing, pronouncing and meaning and a bit confusing especially in fixed expressions.

Thank you in advance,

Pavel Ageykin


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To lie:

This is the easy one.

This means to say something that is not true.

Past tense: Yesterday he lied to me.

Present perfect: I have lied four times about my salary.


Now it gets more complicated!


To lie versus to Lay:

Think about this first: is there a direct object?

Is something being placed down or is it you or your body that is reclining?

If there is a direct object then you use the verb “to lay” and if there is not then you use the verb “to lie.”


To lay:

Use this when there is a direct object.

In the present tense= lay

Example: “Please lay the book on the table” (what is the direct object? It’s the book)

In the past tense= laid

Example: “He finally laid down the law and told him to come home by curfew from now on”

Present perfect= has laid-

Example: “The hen has laid 5 eggs in the past month.”


To lie (down)

To recline

Present tense: to lie

Example: I usually lie down during my lunch break for a few minutes.

Past tense: lay

Example: She drank her camomile tea and lay down on the bed and passed out.

Present perfect: has lain

We never use this tense with this verb so don’t worry about it too much!


To sum up:

Grammar Girl offered a great way to sum up the differences between these two verbs.

She said, “You lay something down, and people lie down by themselves.” click here to read more from Grammar Girl.


Stay motivated!

Yes this is hard to remember.

It’s even hard for natives, but the only way to master this and make sure you aren’t asking a teacher again, is to go out and use it, notice it, read it and underline where and how it’s used.

Don’t be a passive student who asks the same questions year after year.

You guys are too smart and motivated for that.

Work hard to fix this and other common mistakes but then go out, focus on Connection and use these words!


What questions do you have from today?

Get today’s transcripts so that you can go back and practice again.


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