The Past Tense of Lay: Here’s What It Is and How to Use It

Learning a new language is arguably the best way to broaden your horizons if you are looking at any kind of job dealing with public service or global politics in the current time.  Interpersonal relationships between countries and governments are greatly improved when people are able to communicate clearly, and if you learn a language that is rarely spoken or known, you make yourself invaluable to your employer.  However, learning a language can be difficult because it can be hard to keep track of all the rules that different languages follow in their grammar.

English is considered one of the most notorious languages for keeping track of which grammar rules are common and which rules are broken often.  People who learn English as a second or even third language struggle to remember spellings, verb forms, singular and plural subject/verb agreements, and several other common grammar mistakes.  

In this article, let’s explore the verb “to lay,” learn its proper use, how to use its past tense, look for its synonyms, and learn its etymology and context.

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What Is the Past Tense of Lay?

To first understand a word, its history, and how to use it properly, it is important to first define what it actually means.  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the verb lay means “to place for rest or sleep, to put or set down.” Some alternate definitions for the word lay are “to bring forth and deposit (like an egg)” or to “press down, giving a smooth and even surface.”  There are a total of twenty-seven listed definitions for the verb “to lay” in both transitive and intransitive forms.  Lay is a transitive verb, which means that it should be used with a direct object. Irregular verbs like this can be tricky.

This is not to be confused with the verb lie, which usually means (at least in this context) to recline or reclining oneself down in a horizontal position, rather than to lay something else down.  You can also use lie to mean to tell an untruth. This is an intransitive verb. 

The correct past tense form of the infinitive verb “to lay” is “laid.”  According to WordHippo, while the present tense of the verb is “to lay” (with the third person plural being “lays”), the past tense is laid and is pronounced almost exactly as it looks phonetically.  The word “lain” may seem like it is actually another past tense of “to lay,” but, in fact, the word “lain” is just the past participle of the verb “to lie.”  So, in short, the past tense of lay is laid in pretty much any context.  We will discuss context later on in this article.

In the past participle form, we say, “lain.” The present participle would be “laying.”

What Is Lay vs Laid?

Lay is the present tense of the verb and is used to describe an event that is currently happening.  However, “laid” is the past tense of the same verb and is used to describe an event that happened in the past.  The past participle, “have laid,” is used when the context needs a verb that has been completed; people can describe an event that they have finished doing; it describes finality.

Verb tenses are what make English so complicated, especially due to the fact that they are so contextual.  Oftentimes people make common mistakes about verb tenses, so make sure you know your audience is on the same page.  Learn what your audience usually says and communicate clearly using the language that they can relate to, and you will do fine in both written and spoken communication.    

The History and Origin of the Word

One of the best ways to understand a word is to learn where it came from.  A word’s etymology can reveal a lot about the changes a word has gone through to get to where it is today in modern English.  According to, the word “lay” means “to cause to lie or rest” and comes from the Old English “lecgan,” which means to place on the ground or to place in an orderly fashion.  A lot of modern nouns come from the ancient language Latin by way of other European languages such as Spanish, Italian, or French.  

However, a lot of verbs actually come from the Old English language by way of other ancient Northern English languages such as Old High German, Gothic, or Old Norse.  This word is one such example.  

The word can also be a noun (meaning short song), or an adjective meaning uneducated or non-professional (like a layperson or layman).      

Examples of the Word in Context

Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore the word being used correctly.  Either reading the word in its proper context or hearing someone else use it in conversation.  Here are some common examples of the word “to lay” (and its past tense) in common context:

  • “I’m going to lay the book on your bed; try to have it read by the time we meet next week.”
  • “The New York street cat went and laid down on his bed after he ate.”
  • “I have laid down for about six hours, and I really don’t feel good; I don’t feel any better than I did before I laid down.”

Synonyms for Lay

Finally, to really solidify a word into your vocabulary, it is useful to explore words with similar or same definitions.  The more words you know that can fit into a specific context, the easier it will be to remember which ones to use.  Here are some synonyms for the verb “to lay”:

  • To put, basically means the same thing, e.g., to put down
  • To place also has an almost identical meaning
  • To deposit usually means the same thing as well

You can use several of these words in really any context as interchangeable.

In Summary

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that language is run by culture; learning how to speak to your audience is more important than memorizing every rule in English.  But, by reading this article, you should be fully prepared to use the word “lay” in any context, written or spoken.  Good luck!