“To lie” and “to lay”

The verb “to lie” can mean two things:

  1. to deliberately tell untruths – e.g. Don’t lie to me!
  2. to be in a horizontal recumbent position – e.g. Lie down and relax.

Confusion arises – also among many native speakers of English – about the second and third forms of these verbs as well as the -ing form, which is often confused with the verb “to lay”.

Here are some examples based on the things a woman might say to an unfaithful husband.

to deliberately tell untruths

1st form – You lie!
2nd form – You lied to me.
3rd form – You have lied to me and I can no longer trust you.
-ing form – You were lying to me then and you are lying to me now!

to be in a horizontal recumbent position

1st form – How can you lie there peacefully as if nothing has happened?
2nd form – I lay awake all last night unable to sleep.
3rd form – You have lain with another woman!
-ing form – How can you carry on lying there? Say something!

Note that the 2nd and 3rd forms of the verb are the forms that differ.

As the 2nd form of this meaning of “lie” is “lay”, it is sometimes confused with the verb “to lay”, which has a different but related meaning.

“to lay” means to put something down in a horizontal position.

Here’s the next instalment of the dramatic story of marital infidelity.

1st form – I raised the gun and shouted, “Lay down the knife!”
2nd form – He laid the knife on the table and put up his hands.
-ing form – As he was laying down the knife, I noticed there were tears in his eyes.
3rd form – Having laid aside our differences, we made a deal. I would get the house and the car. He would keep his record collection.

It is a common mistake to confuse “lying” and “laying”:

WRONG
I was laying in bed all night unable to sleep.
The knife was laying on the table. 

RIGHT
I was lying in bed all night unable to sleep.
The knife was lying on table.

 

 

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