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I used to think that the difference between "lay" (past tense) and "laid" (past tense) was that the former described an action that had already happened or it was ongoing, and that the latter described one that was happening right now.

And so ...

Mark hung his parka on the hook behind the door and laid on the bed.

(Mark is throwing himself on the bed, so laid should be used.)

Mark lay on the bed, thinking.

(Mark is already lying on the bed, so lay should be used.)

Is this correct or I'm wrong? Maybe "laid" should only be used when you are putting something down (not yourself)?

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The difference is that "lay" is the past tense of the verb "[to] lie" and "laid" is the past tense of another verb, "[to] lay". Your sentences should be:

Mark hung his parka on the hook behind the door and lay on the bed.

Mark lay on the bed, thinking.

[to] lie (intransitive verb) - move into, or be in, a horizontal position on a surface: to lie in bed, to lie on a beach, to lie on your side. Past tense lay: A cat lay in front of the fire, A pen lay on the desk.

[to] lay (transitive verb - needs an object) - to put something in (especially) a flat or horizontal position: just lay the suitcase on the bed, would you? The road has been dug up in order to lay cables. Past tense laid: She laid the baby on the bed, he laid the tray down on the table.

Soon I am going to lie on the bed; when it is dry, I am going to lay my shirt on the bed. After he drank his coffee, he lay on the bed. When it was dry, he laid his shirt on the bed.

Lie

Lay

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I agree with Michael Harvey's answer. I'll just add a little to it.

Some native speaker use 'to lay' incorrectly (or it is part of their dialect) when they should use 'lie'.

I suspect (but I'm guessing) that a confusion may have arisen from a much used children's prayer, Now I lay me down to sleep.

In that case 'lay' is correct but it is being used reflexively (i.e. it is transitive with the object 'me')

Then by a process of hypercorrection, the 'me' could have been elided over the years.

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