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Here’s the reason most people get this mixed up: LAY has TWO meanings--I’m not kidding; do I look like I’m kidding?
The easiest way to remember when to use LIE and LAY correctly is to …
1) Know WHEN the action occurred (also known as verb tense)
2) Know if the person is reclining or “putting something down”
First, look at these definitions, then we’ll try a few sample sentences:
LIE = to recline (also LYING)
LAY (1) = to recline, in the past (yes, it’s true) – most want to use LAID but DON’T
LAY (2) = to place something, now or in the future, such as PUT or SET
I had to LIE down.
Let sleeping dogs LIE.
Let’s go LIE by the pool. (Yes, I know it sounds formal, but it’s correct.)
The money was LYING on the ground.
Yesterday, I LAY by the pool for hours. (I know, I know, it sounds crazy.)
I called Spot, but he just LAY there.
I was exhausted, so I LAY in bed all morning.
Bricklayers LAY bricks.
He told me to LAY the books on the desk.
Sarah wanted to LAY the groceries down.
My quick and dirty rule: ALWAYS use “put” or “set” instead of LAY (2) since it sounds formal and many people will actually think you’re stupid if you use it correctly.