Please take a look at this sentence: It lies to the northwest of Continental Europe. (source: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Great_Britain

I used to think that we would only put prepositions like "in" or "on" with the verb "lie" (For example: "India lies on the Indian Plate.", "The antipodes of the Chatham Islands lie in France."), so when I came across this sentence I checked my dictionaries at hand, but I couldn't find any information about this particular usage.

Is it really correct to write or say that something "lies to something"? (I do not have in mind the kind of sentence constructions like "you lie to me".)and, if it is correct, what exactly is the difference between "lie to", "lie in" and "lie on"?

  • It is the appropriate preposition for an island. Since Great Britain is not part of Continental Europe, we cannot say that it lies in that area. Note that we can say that "it lies close to [the northwest] of Continental Europe," in which case to is definitely the correct preposition to use. Lie, in this context, means situated.
    – Mick
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:23
  • I can see your point. Can you also explain the difference between lie in and lie on?
    – sunny1991225
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:25
  • Your example "India lies on the Indian Plate" is apposite. It means that India is situated upon the Indian [tectonic] plate. I'm not to sure about lies in. We could say that Switzerland lies within Continental Europe.
    – Mick
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:30
  • Note that lies to requires an additional qualifier, e.g. "lies to the northwest of", or "lies close to". It would be incorrect to say "Great Britain lies to Continental Europe."
    – Mick
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:32
  • Thank you Mick. This is very helpful. I'll be sure to keep those usages in mind.
    – sunny1991225
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:38

1 Answer 1


lie to

3 b, always followed by an adverb or a preposition: to be in a specified direction. Our route lay to the west.

lie on

1 a, to be in a flat position on a surface (such as a bed). She lay asleep on the bed.

1 b, to move from a standing or sitting position to a flat position on a surface. The doctor asked him to lie [=lie down] on the table.

2, of things: to be in a flat position on a surface. snow lying on the ground. A note was lying on the table when he came home.

lie in

4, to be located in a particular place. The village lies in a peaceful valley.

These were all taken from http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/lie. Take a look! There are some other surprising prepositions, such as lie along, lie ahead.

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