Lay vs. Lie

Download Free PDF Worksheet

In Worksheet 1, students circle the correct answer. In Worksheet 2, students must circle the correct form of the verb (lie, lay) and rewrite the sentence using the correct form in the correct tense.

Worksheet 1, Lay vs Lie, 11 Exercises
Worksheet 2, Lay vs Lie, 17 Exercises

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Lie or Lay: Why the Confusion?

Many native and non-native speakers of English alike do not understand the difference between using the word lie and using the word lay. This worksheet attempts to clarify the difference.

Both "lie" and "lay" are verbs, meaning that they indicate an action of some sort. However, the verb "lie" and the verb "lay" are two absolutely different words, like rhinoceros and apple.

They are not variants of the same word.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

If we want to use formal grammatical terms (and we must), the verb lie is "intransitive"; the verb lay is "transitive."

The Verb "Lay"

A "transitive" verb indicates that something is being done to someone or something. For example, take a look at the following sentence:

Transitive Verb (lay): Every morning, I lay the newspaper on the table.

I (the subject) do something to the newspaper (direct object) every morning. I lay ("place" or "put")the newspaper on the table. The word lay is the verb (in the present tense), and the noun newspaper is the thing that something is done to (the direct object).

Think of it this way: You have to lay something.

The Verb "Lie"

An "intransitive" verb, on the other hand, does not indicate that anything is being done to anything or anyone. The person or thing does the action of just lying (NOT laying) there.

Intransitive Verb (lie): In the afternoon, my dog, Maxi, lies on the living room couch.

Maxi is not doing anything to anyone or anything. Maxi is simply lying on the couch; the verb lie is "intransitive."

A common error occurs when parents tell children, incorrectly, to "lay" down. Sadly, the children grow up thinking that this use of lay is correct, thus perpetuating the cycle of misuse.

Incorrect: Scott, I want you to lay down this minute or you have a time out.

Correct: Scott, I want you to lie down this minute or you have a time out.

So What Causes All This Confusion?

People do not confuse the words rhinoceros and apple, so why do people confuse the verbs "lie" and "lay"? Well, both words start with the letter "L" and are made up of three letters. And they both mean similar things.

After all, if you LAY an apple on the table, the apple LIES on the table. And if you LAY a rhinoceros,.... Well, let's just not go there.

Unfortunately, these two verbs have different forms, and those different forms cause some confusion.

Take a Look at the Following Table

Base Form Past Tense Past Participle Present Participle
lie (to stretch out, recline) lay lain lying
lay (to place, to put) laid laid laying

The past tense of the verb "lie" is "lay," as in "Yesterday, Maxi lay on the living room couch."

Even though we use the letters l-a-y, the actual verb is "lie"; it's just in the past tense. Do you understand this? If not, the following examples may help.

Correct Forms of LIE

  • Jerry lies on the bed every day after school.
  • The dog just lay on the rug as the burglars ransacked the house.
  • That apple has lain on the table for two days now.
  • Roberta is lying on the recliner in the family room.

Correct Forms of LAY

  • Jerry lays his head on the pillow when he lies in bed.
  • Susan laid her books down when she walked through the door.
  • The contractors have laid the tile in the kitchen.
  • The President is laying the foundation for comprehensive health reform.

For more information, check out the links below and the worksheet.

Worksheet 1, 11 Exercises

Circle the correct word in each sentence below.

  1. Mrs. Khan (lies, lays) an eraser on her desk as soon as she enters the room.
  2. When Kieran saw the beach, he thought he had (lain, laid) his eyes on paradise.
  3. Lester likes to (lie, lay) in his room for about an hour after he wakes up.
  4. The dog (lies, lays) her paws all over the furniture when we go out.
  5. This clay pot has (lain, laid) in the underground cave for thousands of years.
  6. Uday, please (lie, lay) down before you faint from exhaustion!
  7. The factory will dismiss employees if they (lie, lay) down on the job.
  8. The factory will dismiss employees if they (lie, lay) down their tools.
  9. When farmers harvest mangoes, they must (lie, lay) mulch so that the harvest trucks have proper traction.
  10. EMX has (lain, laid) aside its prejudices and will consider all applicants, regardless of background.
  11. The goat enjoys (lying, laying) on the haystack in the afternoon.

Worksheet 2, 17 Exercises

Circle the correct word in each sentence below.

  1. Jenny had (lie, lay) in the lounge chair for two hours before she finally fell asleep.
  2. Because Alvin forgot his wristwatch, he (lie, lay) his cell phone next to his notebook during the test to keep track of time.
  3. Throughout her troubled pregnancy, Jenny was (lie, lay) on her bed most of the time.
  4. Throughout her troubled pregnancy, Jenny (lie, lay) on her bed most of the time.
  5. My dog Marley likes to (lie, lay) under the mango tree during hot summer days.
  6. “Be careful not to get the sink dirty when you (lie, lay) the flowerpot on the windowsill,” Grandma shouted.
  7. Ines’s parents felt confident when she left for college because they had (lie, lay) a strong moral foundation for her to build on.
  8. The workers were (lie, lay) concrete on the driveway when it started to rain.
  9. During yesterday’s storm, Emmett was (lie, lay) under the expressway overpass.
  10. During yesterday’s storm, Emmett (lie, lay) under the expressway overpass.
  11. Every weekday afternoon Virginia (lie, lay) on the couch to watch Tyra.
  12. Jacinto (lie, lay) his backpack on the kitchen table as soon as he gets home.
  13. Sister O’Loughlin (lie, lay) down the rules about appropriate behavior in the dorms.
  14. While James (lie, lay) asleep on the couch, the burglar stole his camera and jumped out the window.
  15. The congregation (lie, lay) the offering at the foot of the altar.
  16. Johan told me that he had (lie, lay) the box outside Ms. Farquar’s office.
  17. Jim stared at the caged python as it (lie, lay) in its cage quietly digesting the mouse for over two hours.

Links for the Correct Use of Lie or Lay