The Lie-Lay Confusion Explained
Lay and lie are two words often interchanged mistakenly in business grammar.
Lay means “to place.” Lie, as a verb, means “to recline or tell an untruth.”
Lie, as a noun, means a falsehood.
Lie, as a noun is generally clear, but the verb lie and the verb lay can be confusing.
Lay (principal parts: lay, laid, laying) means “to put” or “to place” and needs an object to complete its meaning:
- Please lay the brochures carefully on the desk.
- I laid the two other notes there yesterday.
- The sales manager is always laying the blame on his staff when sales drop.
Lie (principal parts: lie, lay, lain, lying) means “recline, rest, or stay.”
It can refer to either a person or thing as assuming or being in a reclining position. The verb “lie” cannot take an object:
- Now he lies in bed most of the day, sulking about the lost sale.
- The opportunities lay before us.
- This RFP has lain unanswered for days.
- Today’s mail is lying on the receptionist’s desk.
Here is an easy tip to check your use of these verbs: substitute the word “place, placed, or placing (depending on grammar structure.) If the substitute fits, lay is correct. If not, use lie.
Remember: lay = place.
To test this:
- I will (lie or lay) down now.
You would not write, “I will place down now.” So, this tells you readily that lay is correct in this sentence: “I will lie down now.”
- I (laid or lay) the pad on his desk.
“I placed the pad on his desk” makes sense, so, lay is correct in this sentence: “I laid the pad on the desk.” (past tense)
- These files have (laid or lain) untouched for days.
You would not write, “These files have placed untouched for days” so lie is correct: “These files have lain untouched.”