What is the grammatical role of the "lay" in the following sentence? It seems like a verb. But why it is not used like a third person form (lays) or "lay" is the past form of it?

First, attention may be given to the doctrine of geographic causation. It stresses the decisive importance of the location on Moscow for the later expansion of the Muscovite state (the medieval state centered in Moscow) and includes several lines of argument. Moscow lay as a crossing of three roads. The most important was the way from the historically crucial city of Kiev and the declining south to the growing northeast.


Lay is also used as the simple past tense of lie, particularly when it is used to refer to or denote position.

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  • By the way, do you think that the form in the question "Moscow lay as a crossing..." is valid, or should it be "Moscow lay at a crossing" or "Moscow lay on a crossing" ? see my answer and the comments on it. – David Siegel Mar 22 '19 at 3:00
  • @DavidSiegel: It's valid, just unusual. You've seen already that lay as X is valid, even if you don't get many results for lay as a crossing; there's nothing special about what words can be there. It was sitting in a position, and acted as a crossroads. – SamBC Mar 22 '19 at 10:40

It is a verb. It is the past tense of "lie".

This is confusing, as there is another verb with the present tense "lay". The difference is that "lie" is not used with an object

Lie on the floor.
Moscow lay at the crossing of three roads.
I have lain here for three hours.

But "lay" is used with an object.

Lay the book on the floor.
She laid the book on the table.
The chicken has laid an egg.

However, although this is the "rule", it is frequently broken. You will hear native speakers saying "Lay on the floor".

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  • 1
    Historically, to lay was a causative formed from to lie, just as to raise was a causitive of to rise, and to set was a causitive of to sit. This formation is no longer productive in English. As you say, lay is also the past of lie, hence the confusion you mention at the end. In many people's speech to lie has been entirely replaced by to lay (in this sense. It still remains in the sense "to tell a falsehood", of course.) – Colin Fine Mar 22 '19 at 0:01
  • By the way, do you think that the form in the question "Moscow lay as a crossing..." is valid, or should it be "Moscow lay at a crossing" or "Moscow lay on a crossing" ? see my answer and the comments on it. – David Siegel Mar 22 '19 at 2:59

I suspect that this is an editing error for:

Moscow lay at a crossing of three roads

In such a construction, "lay" or "lay on" or "lay at" means "was located", and is a past tense of "to lie".

The merriam-webster definition of "lie" (sense 1, meaning 5a) is:

to occupy a certain relative place or position

One could also write:

New York City lies on an excellent natural harbor.


Philadelphia lies southeast of New York.

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  • Not an error. It's the actual form of the actual verb to use. – Robusto Mar 21 '19 at 23:48
  • @Robusto "Lay as? Do you have a source for that form? "Lay" is surely correct. I have seen "lay on" and "lay at" (and "lie/lies on/at depending on tense) with this meaning, but never "lay as". – David Siegel Mar 21 '19 at 23:53
  • Yes. You should look up as in a dictionary, where you'll see it's a synonym for like. Do you seriously mean to suggest verb + like is wrong or even a little bit strange? – Robusto Mar 22 '19 at 0:20
  • @Robusto A dictionary will show many meanings for a basic word such as "as" not all of which apply in all cases. "Like" and "as" are certainly not interchangeable. and verb + like is highly unusual, and probably wrong when the verb is "to lie" in the sense of position. "He lay like a dead man" is valid. "The city lay like a road": is nonsense. "The city lay on a road" is normal. – David Siegel Mar 22 '19 at 0:55
  • @DavidSiegel I think Moscow lay as a crossing can reasonably be interpreted as saying, in effect, that it was a crossing. A more literary rendition might read Moscow lay a crossing. (I'm not a native speaker of English, though, so cum grano salis.) – userr2684291 Mar 22 '19 at 1:26

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