\ ˈlā How to pronounce lay (audio) \
laid\ ˈlād How to pronounce lay (audio) \; laying

Definition of lay

 (Entry 1 of 5)

transitive verb

1 : to beat or strike down with force
2a : to put or set down lay your books on the table
b : to place for rest or sleep She laid the baby in his crib for a nap. especially : bury
3 : to bring forth and deposit (an egg)
4 : calm, allay lay the dust
5 : bet, wager
6 : to press down giving a smooth and even surface brushing to lay the nap
7a : to dispose or spread over or on a surface lay track lay plaster
b : to set in order or position lay a table for dinner lay brick
c : to put (strands) in place and twist to form a rope, hawser, or cable also : to make by putting strands in place and twisting lay up rope
8a : to impose as a duty, burden, or punishment lay a tax
b : to put as a burden of reproach laid the blame on her
c : to advance as an accusation : impute the disaster was laid to faulty inspection
9 : to place (something immaterial) on something lay stress on grammar
10 : prepare, contrive a well-laid plan
11a : to bring against or into contact with something : apply laid the watch to his ear
b : to prepare or position for action or operation lay a fire in the fireplace also : to adjust (a gun) to the proper direction and elevation
12 : to bring to a specified condition lay waste the land
13a : assert, allege lay claim to an estate
b : to submit for examination and judgment laid her case before the commission
14 often vulgar : to copulate with

intransitive verb

1 : to produce and deposit eggs
2 nonstandard : lie entry 1
3 : wager, bet
4 dialect : plan, prepare
5a : to apply oneself vigorously laid to his oars
b : to proceed to a specified place or position on a ship lay aloft
lay an egg
: to fail or blunder especially embarrassingly The professor tried to be funny, but he laid an egg.
lay eyes on
: see, behold I never laid eyes on her before today.
lay into
: to attack especially verbally laid into the referee
lay on the table
1 : to remove (a parliamentary motion) from consideration indefinitely
2 British : to put (something, such as legislation) on the agenda


noun (1)
\ ˈlā How to pronounce lay (audio) \

Definition of lay (Entry 2 of 5)

1 : covert, lair
2 : something (such as a layer) that lies or is laid (see lay entry 1)
3a : line of action : plan
b : line of work : occupation
4a : terms of sale or employment : price
b : share of profit (as on a whaling voyage) paid in lieu of wages
5a : the amount of advance of any point in a rope strand for one turn
b : the nature of a fiber rope as determined by the amount of twist, the angle of the strands, and the angle of the threads in the strands
6 : the way in which a thing lies or is laid in relation to something else the lay of the land
7 : the state of one that lays eggs hens coming into lay
8a vulgar : a partner in sexual intercourse
b usually vulgar : sexual intercourse


Definition of lay (Entry 3 of 5)

past tense of lie


noun (2)
\ ˈlā How to pronounce lay (audio) \

Definition of lay (Entry 4 of 5)

1 : a simple narrative poem : ballad
2 : melody, song


\ ˈlā How to pronounce lay (audio) \

Definition of lay (Entry 5 of 5)

1 : of or relating to the laity : not ecclesiastical
2 : of or relating to members of a religious house occupied with domestic or manual work a lay brother
3 : not of a particular profession the lay public also : lacking extensive knowledge of a particular subject

Lay vs. Lie: Usage Guide


Lay has been used intransitively in the sense of "lie" going to lay down for a quick nap since the 14th century. The practice was unremarked until around 1770; attempts to correct it have been a fixture of schoolbooks ever since. Generations of teachers and critics have succeeded in taming most literary and learned writing, but intransitive lay persists in familiar speech and is a bit more common in general prose than one might suspect. Much of the problem lies in the confusing similarity of the principal parts of the two words. Another influence may be a folk belief that lie is for people and lay is for things. Some commentators are ready to abandon the distinction, suggesting that lay is on the rise socially. But if it does rise to respectability, it is sure to do so slowly: many people have invested effort in learning to keep lie and lay distinct. Remember that even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do.

Examples of lay in a Sentence

Verb Lay the fabric carefully on the table. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. She laid the baby in his crib for a nap. When will they lay the foundation for the addition? lay tracks for the new railroad They laid him in his grave. Adjective a science magazine written for the lay public See More

First Known Use of lay


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Noun (1)

1590, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (2)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for lay

Verb and Noun (1)

Middle English leyen, from Old English lecgan; akin to Old English licgan to lie — more at lie

Noun (2)

Middle English, from Anglo-French lai — see lay entry 5


Middle English, from Anglo-French lai, from Late Latin laicus, from Greek laikos of the people, from laos people

Learn More About lay

Time Traveler for lay

Time Traveler

The first known use of lay was before the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near lay



lay abbot

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Cite this Entry

“Lay.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for lay


\ ˈlā How to pronounce lay (audio) \
laid\ ˈlād \; laying

Kids Definition of lay

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : to put or set down I laid my hat on the table.
2 : to bring down (as with force) Crops were laid flat by the wind.
3 : to produce an egg
5 : to place in position on or along a surface lay tracks
6 : prepare sense 1, arrange lay a trap
7 : to bring into contact with He laid the watch to his ear.
8 : to place a burden, charge, or penalty lay a tax He didn't know where to lay blame.
lay down
: to declare forcefully lay down the law
lay eyes on
: to catch sight of : see
lay in
: to store for later use They laid in supplies for the winter.
lay off
1 : to stop employing often temporarily The company laid off workers.
2 : to let alone Lay off the candy.
lay out
1 : to plan in detail
2 : to arrange in a particular pattern or design She laid out a garden.
3 : to explain in detail He laid out the reasons for his decision.
lay up
1 : to store up
2 : to disable or confine with illness or injury My ankle sprain laid me up for two weeks.



Kids Definition of lay (Entry 2 of 3)

: the way a thing lies in relation to something else the lay of the land


Kids Definition of lay (Entry 3 of 3)

past tense of lie


transitive verb
laid; laying

Legal Definition of lay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to impose as a duty, burden, or punishment lay a tax
2a : to put forward : assert lay a claim
b : to submit for examination and determination laid a case before the commission


Legal Definition of lay (Entry 2 of 2)

past of lie

More from Merriam-Webster on lay

Nglish: Translation of lay for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of lay for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about lay


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