Lying vs Laying: What’s the Difference?

Learn to tell the difference between lying vs laying in written and spoken English.

The verbs “lie” and “lay” are some of the most commonly misunderstood words in the English language. Though they have specific differences, writers and speakers often mistake them. When using the present participles specifically, which are lying and laying, the confusion becomes even greater.

If you are going to be a strong writer, you must understand the difference between lying vs laying. This guide will help.

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Lying vs Laying: Which Is Right?

Lying vs laying getting these words right

In order to understand the difference between lying vs laying you must first understand the difference between lay vs. lie. 

Lying: A Form of the Verb Lie

Lying is the present participle of lie. Lie means to recline or lie down in a horizontal position. it can also mean to tell an untruth. 

Thus, the word lying is appropriate when talking in the present tense about someone who is reclining in a horizontal position or telling a falsehood. 

Lying as an Intransitive Verb

Lying is always used as an intransitive verb. This means it does not take a direct object. No matter how the writer uses it in a sentence, the word lie and its different conjugations will never have a direct object.

Other Forms of Lie

Other forms of lie
Lie means to recline or lie down in a horizontal position but it can also mean to tell an untruth

Lie can also come in other forms. The past tense of lie is “lay” and the past participle form is “lain.” The past tense of lie being a homonym with lay is part of what causes this English grammar confusion. It is proper English to say:

  • I felt sick last night, so I lay down for a nap before dinner.

However, if you use lie in the form of telling an untruth, then the past tense is lied. Here is an example:

  • The boy lied to his mom last week about his English grade.

This uses the form of lie correctly in the past tense.

Laying: A Form of the Verb Lay

Laying, on the other hand, is the present participle of lay. This means to set something down or to put it into a resting position.  

The word laying is appropriate when talking in the present tense about putting something down. 

Laying as a Transitive Verb

Laying and lay are always transitive verbs, which means they have a direct object. You can have a chicken lay eggs or you can lay your keys on the counter when you get home, but there is always an object taking the action of the verb. 

Other Forms of Lay

Lay has other forms as well. The past tense of lay is laid and the past participle is lain. 

This is where these become commonly confused words. Many people in spoken English will say:

  • I laid down for a nap.

However, this is incorrect because laid requires a direct object. The sentence should read:

  • I lay down or a nap.

Examples of Lying and Laying Used Correctly

Here are some examples of lay and lie used correctly when used as a present participle:

  • I am lying down for a rest before we head to the concert. 
  • Are you laying mulch in the garden before summer?
  • Leave sleeping dogs lying where they are.
  • He is laying his keys in the wrong place, so he keeps losing them.

A Final Word on Lying vs Laying

Lying vs laying are often misunderstood words. Lying means to recline in a horizontal position, and it is an intransitive verb that does not have a direct object. It is the present participle of the verb “to lie.”

Laying means to put something or set something down. It is a transitive verb that does take a direct object. it is the present participle of the verb “to lay.” If you liked this post, you might be interested in our can vs. could explainer.

FAQs on Lying vs. Laying

Do you say lying or laying down?

The phrase “lying down” is correct in most instances, because most of the time this form does not have a direct object. Because it is an intransitive verb, you use the present participle of the verb lie. 

When do you use lying or laying?

Lying is what writers use when referring to reclining or moving into a horizontal position. Writers use laying when referring to placing something down. 


  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.