Home > Grammar > The Chicken and the Egg (Lie vs. Lay)

The Chicken and the Egg (Lie vs. Lay)

Do you lie the book on the table,

or do you lay the book on the table?

This has confused too many for much too long.

Let’s clear the confusion!

lay/laid (verb) means:

to put or set an object down

ex: If you lay the book by the coffeemaker, he is sure to see it in the morning.
ex: He laid the loaded gun on the ground slowly.
ex: The chicken has laid many eggs this week.


Brown chicken egg

Image via Wikipedia

We all know a chicken lays an egg. A chicken would never lie an egg, though if it could talk it might lie about how many eggs it produces to keep out of the stew pot!

When a chicken lays an egg, it sets or puts the egg (the object) in the chicken coop. Therefore, if we can remember that a chicken lays an egg, we’ll remember that lay needs an object. By default, lie will not need the object.

When you want to remember if you should use lie or lay to put an object on the table, think of the chicken and how it lays an egg! With that in mind, check out the chart below:

Present Tense      Past Tense      Past Participle
                            Laid                    Laid

Let’s go back to the chicken and the egg and practice using the present tense, past tense, and past participle. Actually, let’s forget about the chicken and concentrate on the egg!

If I lay the egg on the table (present tense) every morning,
then it follows that yesterday I laid an egg on the table (past tense),
and over the past week I have laid many eggs on the table (past participle).

Of course, after I finished all the hard work of laying the egg on the table, I was in need of a rest so I went to lie down. Oh no, we’ve just introduced the confusing partner word of LIE!

lie/lay/lain (verb) means:

to lie down (as in a person or animal, not an object)

ex: If I lie down for a few minutes, I’ll be rested enough to tackle the next task.
ex: My dog lay curled up at my feet last night.
ex: The grieving man had lain on the couch in a stupor for days.

Present Tense      Past Tense      Past Participle
Lie                              Lay                     Lain

Now let’s practice using the present tense, past tense, and past particle!

If I lie down on the bed to rest (present tense),
then it follows that yesterday I lay down to rest (past tense),
and that I have lain on the bed to rest many afternoons this week (past participle)!

Now let’s combine the charts for a reference.

Present Tense      Past Tense      Past Participle
Lay                             Laid                   Laid
Lie                              Lay                     Lain

Where does this leave you? Is it clear as crystal? Or are you clearly confused?

Take a deep breath and…just remember the chicken and the egg!


I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: BetrayedIdentity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at:  Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

  1. Alan Fletcher
    October 24, 2011 at 9:26 am

    So, what have we done here Rosie? Have we lain or laid this subject to rest?


    • October 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Considering it is “this subject,” an object of sorts, that you want to lay to rest, I would say we can say we have laid the subject to rest. 🙂

  2. March 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    This is not laid to rest until I have my say! 🙂 My high school English teacher taught us a little verse: HERE I SIT AND THERE YOU LIE. WE ARE COMFY, YOU AND i. (People SIT AND LIE; inanimate objects LAY WHERE WE SET THEM.) Am I understanding this correctly?

    When in doubt about laying something down, I cheat and use the world PLACED. Is that bad?

    Hugs and thanks for sharing, Rosie!


    • March 3, 2012 at 7:36 am

      Great saying from your high school English teacher, Betty! You’ve got it! But cheating when in doubt? Using a safe word instead? For sure! Been there. Done that. Will do it again if in doubt on grammatical usage or a specific word. 🙂

  1. October 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm
  2. February 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Any thoughts to share? Here's your chance!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: