Here’s a grammar rule that confuses many: When do you use lay or laid? And what about lie?

First, let’s talk about lie and lay. Both of these verbs are present tense and have similar, but slightly different meanings.

Lie is when the subject of the sentence is resting in a horizontal position: “I lie down to read.”

Lay is used when the subject is putting or setting down the object of the sentence: “I lay down my pen when I type.”

So lie is when the subject performs the action, and lay is when the subject is acting on an object. Got it? Good!

Now it starts to get tricky…

The past tense of the verb lay is laid: “Yesterday, I laid the book on the desk. Today, I lay my pen next to it.” That’s pretty straightforward.

What’s confusing is that lay is the past tense of lie. That’s right, lay is a present tense verb, and it’s also the past tense of another verb: “I lie on the couch when I listen to music, and yesterday, I lay down on it for a nap.”

But wait, there’s more: Laid is not only the past tense of lay, but also the past participle of it.

That means when you’re using a helping verb, like had, you’ll use laid instead of lay. The past participle of lie is lain: “I had laid my keys on the coffee table, before I had lain down to read.”

So, yes, it can definitely get complicated. But for the most part, here’s what you should remember:

  • When the subject is putting itself into a horizontal position, use lie, lay, or lain.
  • When the subject sets an object down, use lay or laid.

Follow this grammar rule of thumb, and you’ll be on your way to laying your words down properly.

Happy writing!