‘Lay’ and ‘lie’ are two verbs very often confused by both native English speakers and learners alike. Should you say ‘laying in bed’ or ‘lying in bed’?
We will answer that question in depth in this article and explore some relevant grammar concepts to explain why there is some confusion.
But if you just want the quick answer, ‘lying in bed’ is the correct way to say the sentence. You cannot ‘lay’ in bed.
Let’s begin by explaining the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, specifically the verbs ‘to lay’ and ‘to lie.’
Transitive verbs are verbs that act upon something else. In other words, they require an object. Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, do not. They can work alone.
Some examples of transitive verbs include:
Here are some examples of intransitive verbs:
Laying is a transitive verb, meaning it needs an object, as explained above. To lay something is to position it somewhere. So if you were going to use ‘lay’ in the context of a bed, it would be to say you are setting something on the bed. For example:
I’m laying your gifts on the bed so you can see everything I got you.
Notice how, in the example above, ‘gifts’ are the object for the verb ‘laying.’
Laying is also a dynamic verb, meaning it expresses an action. You can see in the example how there is movement involved. Here are some more examples to illustrate this:
‘Laying’ is the present participle of the verb ‘to lay.’ The present participle tense describes an action currently happening. For example:
Be careful as you walk through the house; we are laying a new carpet.
Lying is an intransitive verb, meaning it does not require an object, as explained above. It is also a stative verb, meaning it describes a state. Lying down is a state, not an action. You are not moving or doing anything when you are lying down. That is why we say ‘lying in bed’ and not ‘laying in bed.’
‘Lying’ is the present participle of the verb ‘to lie.’ For example:
Why is Brian lying in my bed?
So far, pretty simple. Right? But there is one instance where things can get a little complicated: when we use the verbs in their past tense.
The simple past tense of the verb ‘lie’ is ‘lay.’ Let us illustrate by showing you an example sentence in the present tense and the same example in the past tense.
He is so tired these days; he just lies in bed all day.
He was so tired back then; he just lay in bed all day.
We don’t wish to confuse you by highlighting this, but to make you aware so that when you see the word ‘lay’ used in this context, you can be sure it is the verb ‘lie’ in the past tense.
If you want an easy way to tell the difference between a situation that calls for ‘lie’ or one that calls for ‘lay,’ here’s a little tip. Ask yourself whether you could replace the verb with a transitive verb such as ‘place’ or ‘put.’ If you can, you’ll need to use the transitive verb ‘lay.’
Have you ever seen the verbs ‘lie’ or ‘lay’ used in contexts where they seemed to mean something different? This is entirely normal. The two verbs do, in fact, have other meanings. It would be a long and tedious task to list them all, and beyond the scope of this article. But we will list some of the more common ones.
The verb ‘lie’ doesn’t just describe the horizontal position. It has a few other meanings, too.
Another well-known meaning of the verb ‘lie’ is to say something that isn’t true.
I couldn’t lie even if I wanted to - my face is an open book.
‘Lie’ is also a noun that refers to the fib you tell when you lie.
He’s told so many lies that I no longer know what’s true and what isn’t.
‘Lie’ can also be synonymous with ‘exists’ or ‘is.’ For example:
I’m not sure what lies ahead.
You would say this if you don’t know what the future holds or what move you should make next. Another example is:
The responsibility lies with the members of parliament - they’re the only ones who can tend to this issue.
Besides putting something down, the verb ‘lay’ has a few other meanings. Here are some.
When a chicken produces an egg, this is called ‘laying an egg.’ Here’s an example of how to use this in a sentence:
My chickens are laying lots of eggs this year.
To put it in order, so it is ready for use is another meaning for the verb ‘lay.’ A commonly used sentence is:
Can you help me lay the table for dinner?
To summarize, if there’s an action, ‘laying’ is your word. If there isn’t, then it’s ‘lying.’
Make sure you’ve got your knowledge of tenses up to scratch, and you’ll be good to go.
We hope this helps!
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