With English being my second language, it is difficult to remember the correct usage of "lie" and "lay" - especially in the past tense :-)

I know that a "lie" is a fib and that a chicken "lays" eggs, but then we get to lying down it gets murky for me. It is easier to use lying down in a sentence, but when it gets to past tense, then what do you say?

E.g. "I lay down on the couch and then my dog jumped on too" - is this correct?

Will appreciate a comprehensive answer with adequate examples of everyday usage!


1 Answer 1


'Lie' and 'lay' are two separate verbs. The former is intransitive (does not take an object) and the latter is transitive (requires an object). But the situation is somewhat clouded by the fact that 'lay' is also the past tense of 'lie'. I think this will be clearer with examples:

to lie: I lie here every day. I lay in bed all day yesterday. I have lain here all day.

to lay: I lay my glass on the table. Peter laid his book on the desk. I have laid my book on the desk.

  • So, is this correct then? 1) "I had been lying down when you called", after edit added: or "I was lying down ..." 2) "I have been waiting for your call all the time while I was lying down" 3) "Don't lie to me, I saw you laying the book on the table" Dec 3, 2016 at 11:46
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    (1) Yes either would be fine. "Had been lying down" implies that you had just finished lying down when the person called. "Was lying down" implies that you were still lying down when the person called. (2) is grammatically incorrect, you have mixed your tenses. You need to either use "have been" both times or "was" both times. (3) is good.
    – D. Nelson
    Dec 3, 2016 at 11:50
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    Additionally: to lie, meaning to tell a deliberate untruth, becomes: You lie, You lied, You have lied. Dec 3, 2016 at 11:51
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    @infinitquest Present tense: I/you/we/they lie - he/she lies (e.g. to hide embarrassing truths). Past tense: lied (e.g. They lied about their role in the burglary). Perfect: have lied (e.g. You have lied to me on more than one occasion.) Dec 3, 2016 at 12:14

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