In the definition article of "gaze" (MacMillan Dictionary) I found the following example sentence:

He lay on the bed gazing up at the ceiling.

I cannot figure out what form "he lay" should be. My alternatives are "he lays" or "he laid" but not "he lay".

Is that sentence correct? If yes: what form is "he lay"?

Ohhh! After reading the answers (thx!), I found the source of my confusion: in this online dictionary you can click on each word and you would be forwarded to its definition. Clicking on "lay" in this sentence forwards to "lay (verb)" what is obviously a tricky linking error of the dictionary.

2 Answers 2


Lay in this case is the past of "lie", which is an intransitive verb. The difficulty occurs because "lay" can be a form of two different verbs which have similar meanings:

  1. lay, laid, laid (transitive): to put someone or something down in a careful way, especially so that they are lying flat https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/lay_1
  2. lie, lay, lain (intransitive): to be in a position in which your body is flat on a surface such as the floor or a bed https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/lie_1

Even native speakers get tripped up on the proper forms. "Lain" in many cases sounds old-fashioned to some people.


Yes, the sentence is correct.

He lay is the simple past of the verb lie, which means to recline (like one does on a bed).

Unfortunately, your alternatives deal with another verb, lay, which means to put something on top of something else (like one does on a shelf).

He lies on the bed. He lays the book on the shelf. (present)

He lay on the bed. He laid the book on the shelf. (simple past)

He had lain on the bed. He had laid the book on the shelf. (pluperfect)

If you're still confused, this resource may help you.

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