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English 362: Chapter 6: Problematic Verbs

There is often a lot of confusion surrounding the verbs “to lay” and “to lie”, and “to sit” and “to set” because they are so similar in a few of their forms. Let’s look at how to determine when to use each verb and distinguish between their meanings.

Lay and Lie

First of all here are the different forms of each:

  • Base form= lay/ lie
  • -Ing Form = laying/ lying
  • -En Form = laid/ lain
  • General Present = lay/ lie
  • -S Present = lays/ lies
  • Past Tense = laid/ lay


The key difference between these two verbs is that “to lay” is a transitive verb and “to lie” is an intransitive verb. Remember that transitive means that the verb takes a direct object (DO).

Here are examples with “to lay”:

My annoying brothers lay their dirty feet on my bed. (General present)

Frodo lays his weary head against the soft pillow. (-S present)

Tree Beard laid Merry and Pippin down on the grass. (Past)

The soldiers were laying beams across the northern entrance. (-ing form)

I have laid decorative center pieces on the tables. (-En form)

In each of these sentences, there is a direct object after the verb. (For example, in the first sentence the direct object is feet)


Here are sentences with “to lie”:

My furry cat lies on my jacket. (-S present)

Cats lie on my fluffy jacket. (General present)

My furry cat lay on my jacket yesterday. (Past tense)

My furry cat was lying on my jacket. (-ing form)

My furry cat has lain on my jacket before. (-En form)

In these sentences, you see that “to lie” does not take any direct object.


Sit and Set

Typically, these two verbs are less confusing, but they are still worth discussing. Again, we have a difference of “to set” as a transitive verb and “to sit” as an intransitive verb.

First, here are the forms of each:

  • Base form= set/ sit
  • -Ing Form = setting/ sitting
  • -En Form = set/ sat
  • General Present = set/ sit
  • -S Present = sets/ sits
  • Past Tense = set/ sat


Example Sentences

I sat with my back against the wall. (Past)

She sits next to her family. (-s present)

I was sitting there when he randomly introduced himself. (-ing form)

I have sat there before. (-en form)

Nobody should sit alone. (General present)


My family has set a record for most family stickers on the car window. (-En Form)

I set my books on that table usually. (General present)

He sets up the stage scenery. (-S present)

He is setting up the stage scenery. (-ing form)

I set my hopes on a vacation to Japan or China. (Past)