Laid - lay - lie - lied

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Laid/lay/lie/lied are verbs that are often confused in many dialects of English. In academic English, any such confusion is regarded as a sign of illiteracy. Don't confuse them.

To lie has two meanings.

  • It can mean 'to say something that is not true'. In this sense, the past tense (e.g., when you want to say what someone did yesterday) is lied: 'he told me he was rich, but he lied'. The past participle (which is used with 'have', etc) is the same: 'he has lied'
  • More usually, to lie means to stretch oneself out horizontally - as on a bed. The past tense is lay: 'I was feeling ill, so I lay down for an hour'. In this sense, the verb is intransitive - that is, you can only lie down yourself. You cannot lie anyone else down. The past participle is lain ('The ruined statue has lain in the desert for a thousand years.')
  • There is also a verb to lay. (Notice that the present tense of this verb is the same as the past tense of 'to lie'.) It is a transitive verb - it is the word to use when you want to make something (or someone) else lie down, and some other related meanings. A porter might lay down his burden; a hen might lay an egg; builders lay foundations; a waiter might lay a table; and a killer might lay his victim down on the ground. The past tense of this is laid; the present participle is lying.
(In slang, this is the verb used informally to mean 'have sexual intercourse with'; Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) once said 'If all the chorus girls on Broadway were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised'. This is an example of cynicism, humour and stereotyping. What a wit Dorothy Parker was!)