Lie vs. Lay

Lie is a verb that means to rest in a horizontal position or to tell a falsehood. It is an intransitive verb, which means it does not take a direct object; i.e., you cannot lie something else, but you can lie by yourself.

Lay is a verb that means to put down or to place. It is a transitive verb, which means it takes a direct object; i.e., you can lay something else somewhere, but you cannot lay by yourself — unless you’re a chicken, in which case the unmentioned egg would be the direct object.

My mama always told me: “People lie; chickens lay.” Good way to remember it.

But then, the plot thickens….

The confusion gets really bad when you learn that the past tense of “lie” is “lay.”

Example: I lay down for a nap last Saturday afternoon.

This is best illustrated by a little spreadsheet of examples:

Present Tense Present Participle Past Tense Past Participle
People lie down. People are lying down. The people lay down. The people have lain down.
People lie (fib) to me. People are lying to me. People lied to me. People have lied to me.
Chickens lay eggs. The chickens are laying eggs. The chickens laid eggs. The chickens have laid eggs.

In the oil patch, you can lay the pipe down. Perhaps yesterday you laid pipe for a new pipeline.

But there is no lying on the job, whether that means resting or telling a fib.

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