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I've seen both versions: "lie low" and "lay low". I was wondering if "lay low" is the mistaken form of "lie low". For instance,

Okay. I'll lay low for 24 hours.

4 Answers 4

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If lay low takes no direct object—and it takes no direct object in your example phrase—then its use in place of lie low is non-standard (or, as some would say, mistaken).

Standard usage of to lay would be to say

Okay, I'll lay myself low for 24 hours.

otherwise

Okay, I'll lie low for 24 hours.

This is because to lay in standard usage must always take a direct object (it is a transitive verb); in contrast, to lie takes no direct object (it is a non-transitive verb).

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  • 12
    lay myself low? That's pretty weird.
    – Lambie
    Feb 5 at 21:34
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    I think most English speakers are not really aware of the distinction between "lay" and "lie" and will use them interchangeably.
    – Barmar
    Feb 5 at 22:17
  • 5
    @Barmar I think the loss of the distinction is a bit of an Americanism tbh. Some people lack it this side of the pond, but it seems far less common than I hear it is in the US
    – Tristan
    Feb 7 at 9:30
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Both could be correct. Lay is the past tense of lie.

He lay low for a week last month.

However, in your example you should use the infinitive form "lie" with the modal "will".

I'll lie low for 24 hours.

These words are so often misused, that it is almost becoming a variant not a mistake (but if you are learning English, you should try to get it right)

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Native English speaker, and "I'll lay low for 24 hours" sounds like completely grammatical and idiomatic informal English to me.

Merriam-Webster agrees that "lay low" and "lie low" are interchangeable in this context. And in case it helps, "I'm going to lay down" still sounds slightly nonstandard to me, but "I'm going to lay low" doesn't.

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Seconding @mamster's answer, with some further details: first, both an imperative "Lay low until this cools down", or "I think I'll lay low until this cools down" have at least U.S. cowboy and gangster movie precedents going back to the 1950s. I do not recall anyone in that context saying "Lie low".

(And even the past tense would be, to my ears' recollection, "He laid low for a few weeks"...)

At the same time, for whatever reason I am sensitive to the ("incorrect") "I'll lay down for a while", as opposed to "I'll lie down". But in the last 20-30 years (and maybe always) people do/did not scrupulously distinguish. I just inwardly flinch a little but let it go. Much as with over-substitution of "I" for "me" that has become popular in the last 20 years.

So, if you want to be faithful to the romanticized storylines' context where such a phrase achieved its notoriety, probably "You'd better lay low for a while" is more authentic than the grammatically correct version with "lie".

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  • Interesting suggestion that lay low is actually the more idiomatic variant. A simple google search for both returns 3.25 million hits for lay low but only 2.5 million for lie low, which seems to support your feeling, however naive that google indicator may be. Feb 7 at 17:47

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