lay

1 of 5

verb

laid ˈlād How to pronounce lay (audio) ; laying

transitive verb

1
: to beat or strike down with force
2
a
: 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
7
a
: 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
8
a
: 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
11
a
: 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
13
a
: 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
5
a
: to apply oneself vigorously
laid to his oars
b
: to proceed to a specified place or position on a ship
lay aloft
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.

lay

2 of 5

noun (1)

1
2
: something (such as a layer) that lies or is laid (see lay entry 1)
3
a
: line of action : plan
b
: line of work : occupation
4
a
: terms of sale or employment : price
b
: share of profit (as on a whaling voyage) paid in lieu of wages
5
a
: 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
8
a
vulgar : a partner in sexual intercourse
b
usually vulgar : sexual intercourse

lay

3 of 5

past tense of lie

lay

4 of 5

noun (2)

1
: a simple narrative poem : ballad
2

lay

5 of 5

adjective

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
Phrases
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

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
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
These communities — ranging from groups that only meet online to immigrant collectives who worship in their cultural traditions — receive financial and supportive resources from the local and national Presbyterian Church (USA) and can be led by lay leaders. Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post, 7 Jan. 2024 The use of lay counselors to expand and extend the reach of services has been tried and studied extensively in developing countries. Grace Rubenstein, STAT, 18 Jan. 2024 Becciu is the first cardinal to be tried in Vatican City's criminal court by lay judges. Phoebe Natanson, ABC News, 16 Dec. 2023 Through the preliminary investigations of the CLPS missions, NASA hopes to establish a good lay of the land before sending astronauts to the south pole during the second half of this decade. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, 3 Oct. 2023 Prosecutors reportedly said their witness list has 737 people, including lay witnesses and expert witnesses. Alexandra Del Rosario, Los Angeles Times, 27 Nov. 2023 The 66-year-old courtier is a father of five, goes by Eddie to his friends and is considered to be both the most senior lay member of the Catholic Church and senior peer in Britain, The Telegraph reported. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 2 May 2023 As her 6-month-old lay dying in her arms, Becky Kekula struggled to make sense of how this could be. Jessica Bartlett, BostonGlobe.com, 29 Apr. 2023 The discernment team, which consists of 11 lay members and Senior Pastor Keith Thompson, has been studying the issue of potential disaffiliation for more than a year, Thompson said in a letter to the congregation today. Greg Garrison | , al, 13 June 2023
Adjective
Rather than spend months on a wait list for therapy, San Ysidro Health patients with mild to moderate symptoms of mental health issues can now divert directly into group therapy led by a lay counselor. Grace Rubenstein, STAT, 18 Jan. 2024 But also absent are the lay German theologians seen as among the faith’s most liberal voices. Stefano Pitrelli, Washington Post, 2 Oct. 2023 Mushroom Disputes: The Mycelium vs. Fruiting Body Debate The lay understanding of a mushroom (i.e., the stem with a cap depicted in the popular red-and-white emoji) is technically called the fruiting body. Robert Johnson, Rolling Stone, 26 Oct. 2023 Certainly, this technology holds promise, as science communication for years has been marred by complexity and inaccessibility to the lay public. Time, 23 Aug. 2023 The lay leader of the local congregation confirmed Wednesday that Robertson lived alone within his ward boundaries. Kolbie Peterson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 9 Aug. 2023 Shaw delivers the rest of this story as an omniscient narrator, deftly moving from scene to scene and, along the way, helpfully explaining production jargon for a lay audience. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 2 May 2023 The software, known as PGP, aimed to make secure communication accessible to the lay user, but it was so poorly designed that even Edward Snowden messed up his first attempt to use PGP to email a friend of Laura Poitras. Kai Ye, WIRED, 23 July 2023 The therapist worked as a plot engine, because everyone’s lay idea of therapy is having a problem and addressing it and solving it, which hews really well to the format of a sitcom. The New Yorker, 12 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'lay.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

Adjective

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

First Known Use

Verb

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

Adjective

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near lay

Cite this Entry

“Lay.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lay. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

lay

1 of 5 verb
laid ˈlād How to pronounce lay (audio) ; laying
1
: to beat or strike down
wheat laid flat by the wind and rain
2
a
: to put or set on or against a surface or in order
lay the book on the table
lay bricks
b
: to place for rest or sleep
especially : bury sense 1
3
: to produce and deposit eggs
4
nonstandard : lie entry 1
5
: to cause to settle
a shower laid the dust
also : to make calm : allay
laid his fears
6
: to spread over a surface
lay plaster
7
: to make ready : prepare
lay plans
lay a table
8
: to deposit as a wager : bet
I'll lay you $10 on that
9
: impose sense 1a
lay a tax
lay blame
10
: to place or assign in one's scheme of things
lays great stress on manners
11
: to bring to a specified condition
lay waste to the land
12
: to put forward : submit
lay claim to an estate

lay

2 of 5 noun
: the way in which a thing lies in relation to something else
lay of the land

lay

3 of 5

past of lie entry 1

lay

4 of 5 noun
1
: a simple poem that tells a story : ballad
2

lay

5 of 5 adjective
: of or relating to laymen or the laity
Etymology

Verb

Old English lecgan "to beat down"

Noun

Middle English lay "ballad," from early French lai (same meaning)

Adjective

Middle English lay "of the people other than priests and clergy," from early French lai (same meaning), from Latin laicus "of the people," derived from Greek laos "people"

Legal Definition

lay

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

lay

2 of 2

past of lie

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