What is the right form of the verb in the following sentence?

The essence of the brilliant outcome {lay / lies} in the excellence of the team.

I think lies is right (third person singular adds an s), but I read "lay" in the writing source.

  • 1
    If you have a source, kindly provide the link and add the context as well.
    – shin
    Sep 16, 2015 at 18:33
  • 3
    Both are correct; they refer to different times. Lay is the past tense of lie, and past-tense verbs are not inflect for persons or number. Sep 16, 2015 at 18:35
  • 1
    "Lay" is Past Indefinite (2-nd form) of the irregular verb "Lie". StoneyB beat me to the punch. Sep 16, 2015 at 18:35
  • I too was about to post the same thing... man English is really not very good with some of the plural forms.
    – Crazy Eyes
    Sep 16, 2015 at 18:41
  • My comment should read "do not inflect for". Sep 16, 2015 at 18:49

1 Answer 1


Lay and lie are two words with confusing forms (in real life people get these wrong all the time):

                                 present    past    past part.   -ing form

to lay - to put something down   lay(s)     laid    laid         laying
to lie - to rest or recline      lie(s)     lay     lain         lying

The way you are using it, you mean to lie (you can say "the brilliant outcome rests in the team's excellence", for example), so you want to use the present form of the verb, which is lies - if your sentence is describing something in the present:

The essence of the brilliant outcome lies in the excellence of the team.

If you were expressing this in past tense, you'd say

The essence of the brilliant outcome lay in the excellence of the team.


  • You should use the definition of lie that fits the usage in the question, as it is different from what you cited "to rest or recline".
    – user3169
    Sep 16, 2015 at 22:42
  • To clarify, the lies sentence sounds like it is a general aphorism: if you have a good team, good outcomes follow (see gnomic aspect). The lay sentence sounds like it describes a specific event: we had a good team, and thus we obtained a good outcome.
    – Amadan
    Sep 16, 2015 at 23:00

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