Difference Between Lay and Lie

Main Difference – Lay vs Lie

Many English learners find it a big challenge to choose the correct verb out of lie and lay. Although both verbs have similar meanings, there is a distinct difference between lay and lie. Lay means to put down or set something whereas lie means to recline or to assume a horizontal position. The main difference between lay and lie is that lay is always followed by a direct object whereas lie is never followed by an object.

Lay – Meaning and Usage

Lay basically means to set down something or place something. The meaning of this verb can vary according to different contexts as indicated in the examples. However, lay is always a transitive verb and follows a direct object. Here, the subject is acting on the object. Therefore, lay can never be used without an object. You always lay something down.

I laid my keys on the table and went to my room.                   

She laid her hand on my shoulder.

The hens lay eggs every day.

She wanted to lay the table before they arrived.

The difference between lay and lie can become quite confusing when it comes to the past tense of the verbs. This is because lay is also the past tense of lie. The easiest way to identify the verb then is to memorize that lay (to put down something) always follow a direct object whereas lay (the past tense of lie) doesn’t follow an object.

I lay down on the bed. → not followed by a direct object → Past tense of Lie

I lay the keys on the table. → followed by a direct object → Lay (to put something down)

Main Difference - Lay vs Lie

Lie – Meaning and Usage

Lie means to recline or to rest. This is an intransitive verb and, is not followed by a direct object. This is an action that the subject does to himself. That is, people lie down by themselves. The following sentences will help you to understand the subtle differences in the meaning of this verb.

Exhausted, I lie down on the bed.

The little girl lies on the grass and reads a book.

The castle lies in ruins today.

This little village lies five miles east of the main town.

As explained above, the past tense of lie is also lay. The following table will help you to remember the different verb formations of these two verbs.













It is also important to remember that there is two verbs known as lie. The other verb means to tell a lie or lies.

Difference Between Lay and Lie

Difference Between Lay and Lie


Lay means to put or place something.

Lie means to rest or to be in a horizontal position.


Lay is always followed by an object.

Lie is not followed by an object.

Verb type

Lay is a transitive verb.

Lie an intransitive verb.

Past tense

Lie becomes lay in the past tense formation.

Lay becomes laid in the past tense formation.Difference Between Lay and Lie - infographic

About the Author: admin