Compare - Lie or Lay

These very common words are frequently confused in everyday speech. Here is a helpful guide to help you avoid this confusion.


To 'lie' means to be in, or move into, a horizontal position on a surface. Put simply, it is to recline or rest. 'Lie' is an intransitive verb, meaning that it expresses action and the subject engages in that action, but nothing is being acted upon. In other words, the verb has no direct object, and does not express the kind of action that can be done to anything. Listed below are its principal forms:

Base form: Lie

Past tense: Lay

Past participle: Lain (this is quite formal and rarely used)

Present participle: Lying


  • The doctor told me to lie on my side while he performed the examination. (Recline or rest)
  • I needed to rest, so I lay on the sofa for a while. (Recline or rest)
  • When I got into work this morning, the files were lying on my desk. (Recline or rest)

'Lie' can also mean to say or write something that is deliberately untrue. While the past tense of 'lie' in the context of moving into a horizontal position is 'lay', it must be noted that in the context of telling an untruth it is not. It is, in fact, 'lied'. For example:

  • lay down to sleep at around 10 pm last night, but I'm working late tonight so I probably won't get the chance to lie down until after midnight. (Recline or rest)
  • Anne says that she never lies, but I know she lied about being sick last week, so clearly she does lie sometimes. (Tell an untruth)

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