Lied, Laid, or Layed — What’s the Difference?

Writers frequently confuse lied and laid, two similar words with different meanings. Then throw in layed and fuggedaboutit.

In a nutshell: 

  • lied is the past tense of the word lie, meaning “to tell an untruth.” 
  • Laid is the past tense of lay, meaning “to place” or “set down.” 
  • And, well, layed just simply isn’t a word. 

Don’t be hard on yourself if you thought layed was a word — it’s a common misspelling of laid.

Just to throw a wrench in things even further, I’m going to add that the past tense of lie, in the sense of being in a horizontal posture, is lay.

Bewildering, I know. But, as Morpheus once said, “the answers are coming.” This article lays (no pun intended) it all out for you — we’ll tackle these troublesome verbs and clear up the confusion.

Using Lied and Laid Correctly — with Examples

I Cannot Tell a Lie

When we’re talking about something someone knew to be false but said anyway, we want to use lies. 

Though I haven’t seen much confusion about this, let’s look at an example just for fun: 

To keep the birthday party a surprise, my friend Avery lied to me. 

(Sometimes lies are ok — if there’s going to be cake.)

Time to Lay Down the Law

Laid is the past tense of “to lay” which means to set or to place, as in the examples below:

Before plating the vegetables, the chef laid a bed of rice on the plate.

I took my phone out of my pocket, turned off the ringer, and laid it down on the desk.

Great! Now we know the difference between lied and laid. Case closed.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute! What about the other sense of lie, meaning “to recline”? And isn’t that the same thing as lay? If we can say “I laid it down,” can’t we say “I laid down?” 

Well, no. How come? Buckle your seatbelts. I’m about to lay down some grammar realness.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Not Lay

Let’s get something out of the way: You might be using lay incorrectly. 

Despite the frequency of phrases like, “I’m going to lay in bed,” or, “my cat lays in the sunshine,” such usage of lay is technically incorrect. The correct word is lie. We lie in bed and our cat lies in the sunshine. 

To lay, on the other hand, is something we do to something or someone — grammar nerds like me say that lay “takes a direct object.” All this means is that you can’t simply lay, you have to have something to lay. Like a brick, for example — bricklayers lay bricks.

Thus, we can lie on the couch with a book. And when we’re done reading, we can lay the book on the coffee table.

Now think about this: You lay down that book, and after you’ve laid it down, what does it do? It lies there. Yes — something lies where it has been laid. Thanks, English. 

Confusing enough? Hold on. It gets worse better. 

Irregular Verbs — Or, That Time I Lay in Bed Thinking about Lying

We have to understand that much of our confusion comes from the fact that these verbs are irregular. No, it doesn’t mean they need more fiber — it means that they don’t act like most other verbs.

If you’re astute, you noticed the use of “lay” in the heading above. We’re going to get to that here in a minute, but first some explanation and context.

Regular Verbs and the E-D Rule

You see, in English, most verbs are regular, meaning they follow the same rules. One of those rules is the “-ed” rule: When we want to make a verb past tense, we add the ending “-ed” to it. For example, walk becomes walked, call becomes called, work becomes worked, and so forth. Simple.

Unfortunately, and to the dismay of English speakers and toddler parents everywhere, things aren’t always so simple.

What Lies Beyond the Bounds of Regularity

Some verbs — irregular verbs — don’t follow the “-ed” pattern. 

Consider the word sit. We don’t say that someone “sitted,” we say that they sat. Feel is another irregular verb. We say felt, not “feeled.” (If you pay attention to toddlers and young children, you will see that they often invent constructions like “sitted” and “feeled” — because they have absorbed the “-ed” rule. As irregular verbs don’t follow the same rules, we have to learn them by rote.)

To lie, as in lying down on your bed, is just such a verb — it’s irregular, and I’ll show you how.

The Irregular Lie

As we’ve already covered, lied is the past tense form of the verb “to lie” — but only one version of that verb. That is, “lied is the past tense of “to lie” only when it means “to tell an untruth.” 

So what about when I lie flat in my bed? 

These Aren’t the Verbs You’re Looking For

Oddly, lied is not the past tense of “to lie” in the sense of being in a recumbent position. But, to the frustration of many, neither is laid — that’s right, it’s incorrect to say, “I laid in bed at night.” What!?

I know. In a highly irregular and eminently befuddling move, the verb to lie, as in, “to lie in bed,” properly takes the past tense form lay.

Yeah. Really. The past tense of lie is the same word as the present tense of the word lay. Hate English yet?

Using Lay as the Past Tense of Lie — with Examples

In the examples below, we might be tempted to use the word laid, but lay is the correct form.

He woke up from a nightmare and lay in bed in terror.

After the dogs received their bones, they lay by the fire and gnawed at them.

Don’t believe me? Pick up the nearest novel. Chances are you’ll see a wealth of examples.

Let’s Lay It All Out — A Handy Chart

Whew! We’ve traversed some tricky linguistic terrain! I hope, if you find yourself lost in the weeds of lie and lie and lay (and lied and lay and…), this guide will help you find your way.

With all the oddities of these seemingly simple words, many writers — myself included — struggle to use them correctly. 

That’s why I’ve made a simple chart that lays (see what I did there?) it all out.

A Chart for Using Lie, Lie, or Lay

Present TensePast Tense
Lie (to say something false)“He lies to his mother.” “I lie about my age”“He lied to his mother.” “I lied about my age.”
Lie (to recline)“He lies on the couch.” “The dogs lie in the yard.”“He lay on the couch.” “The dogs lay in the yard.”
Lay (to set or place something)“She lays the bricks.” “The kids lay the cloth on the table.”“She laid the bricks.” “The kids laid the cloth on the table.”

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