Grammar101: Lie and Lay

Last Update: June 23, 2022

Grammar101: Lie and Lay


A Few Simple Rules Are All You Need

There's no doubt that, in its entirety, English grammar is complex, especially for someone learning English as a second language.


If you're a native English speaker and just want to avoid common grammatical errors in your writing (such as blog posts on your website) there are only a handful of rules that you need to memorize.

So this series of posts is for those who'd like to ditch the Grammarly crutch and just know what's right and what's not.

Here's the eighth one:

Lie and Lay

This one is surprisingly subtle. No wonder so many people get it wrong.

First up, let's dispense with one meaning of "lie".

We are NOT talking about telling untruths, or what some people call "fibs" or Australians call "porkies".

The context here is to put something (including yourself) down on top of something else.

So here's the first (and primary) difference:


Use "lie" to indicate that you are doing something with your own body or directing someone else to do so.

"I am going to lie down now" is an example of correct usage.

Another is "I want all you children to lie down and take a nap now".

An Exception (but not Exactly)

You might think that the prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep" breaks this rule, but not so.

As you'll see below, "lay" is used when you are acting on something else (such as laying bricks). In the prayer, you are acting on "me" so it's correct. If the word "me" weren't there, it would have to become "Now I lie down to sleep".

I said it was subtle, didn't I?


"Lay" is used when you are acting on something (or someone) else.

For example, "You can lay that box down over there" or "We are going to lay all those coffins on top of one another".

OK, that's all pretty straightforward, but here's where it gets complicated.

Oh No, Just When I Thought I Had It

You see, here's the problem.

"Lay" is also the past tense of "lie".

So "I am going to lie down and go to sleep" becomes, when you are telling someone the next day, "I lay down yesterday and went to sleep".

Never "I lied down yesterday and went to sleep".

Does It Matter?

This is one of the rare cases where I'm inclined to think it doesn't.

Sure, if you really want to get it right follow the rules above.

But if you get it wrong, you'll just say something like "I'm going to lay down now" and everyone will totally understand what you mean.

And that's really what it's all about.

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FKelso Premium Plus
These posts are such a good idea. I hope the people who really need them are collecting them into a little set of references that they can refer back to. Good job, Phil.

(Oops -- not supposed to end with "to." Proper grammar would be "references to which they can refer at a later date."
phil1944 Premium
I think the rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition was put to rest by Winston Churchill, who in reply to a lady who took him to task for this transgression (in The Times, I think) replied with "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put".
Newme202 Premium
It is all about the context of whatever you're saying, Phil
phil1944 Premium
Absolutely, Simone.
Newme202 Premium
JeffreyBrown Premium Plus
🤔 A bit confusing, but all of them seem to work, Phil!

phil1944 Premium
It's definitely one of the more confusing ones, Jeff.
JeffreyBrown Premium Plus
Yes, indeed, Phil!
APachowko1 Premium
This is very good, Phil. I cannot wait when you try to distinguish between when to use the word that or when to use which. The use of when to use an apostrophe with which and when not to, always confuses the hell out of me.
phil1944 Premium
Sounds like you've thrown out a challenge, Antonio.