lay 1 (lā)
v. laid (lād), lay·ing, lays
1. To cause to lie down: lay a child in its crib.
a. To place in or bring to a particular position: lay the cloth over the painting.
b. To bury.
3. To cause to be in a particular condition: The remark laid him open to criticism.
4. To put or set down: lay new railroad track.
5. To produce and deposit: lay eggs.
6. To cause to subside; calm or allay: "chas'd the clouds ... and laid the winds" (John Milton).
7. To put up to or against something: lay an ear to the door.
8. To put forward as a reproach or an accusation: They laid the blame on us.
9. To put or set in order or readiness for use: lay the table for lunch.
10. To devise; contrive: lay plans.
11. To spread over a surface: lay paint on a canvas.
12. To place or give (importance): lay stress on clarity of expression.
13. To impose as a burden or punishment: lay a penalty upon the offender.
14. To present for examination: lay a case before a committee.
15. To put forward as a demand or an assertion: laid claim to the estate.
16. Games To place (a bet); wager.
17. To aim (a gun or cannon).
a. To place together (strands) to be twisted into rope.
b. To make in this manner: lay up cable.
19. Vulgar Slang To have sexual intercourse with.
1. To produce and deposit eggs.
2. To bet; wager.
3. Nonstandard To lie.
4. Nautical To put oneself into the position indicated.
a. The direction the strands of a rope or cable are twisted in: a left lay.
b. The amount of such twist.
2. The state of one that lays eggs: a hen coming into lay.
3. Vulgar Slang
a. Sexual intercourse.
b. A partner in sexual intercourse.
To strike blows on all sides.
1. To give up; abandon: lay aside all hope of rescue.
2. To save for the future: laid aside money for a vacation.
1. To reserve for the future; save.
2. To put aside and hold for future delivery.
1. To save for future use.
2. Nautical To remain stationary while heading into the wind.
1. To give up and surrender: laid down their arms.
2. To specify: laid down the rules.
3. To store for the future.
4. Nonstandard To lie down.
To be waiting to attack: Muggers were laying for the unsuspecting pedestrian in the alley.
To store for future use: lay in supplies for an Arctic winter.
lay into Informal
1. To scold sharply.
2. To attack physically; beat up.
1. To terminate the employment of (a worker).
2. To mark off: lay off an area for a garden.
3. Slang To stop doing something; quit.
4. Games To place all or a part of (an accepted bet) with another bookie in order to reduce the risk.
1. To apply (something) by or as if by spreading onto a flat surface: laid on a thick Southern accent.
2. To prepare, usually in an elaborate fashion; arrange: laid on cocktails for 50 at the last minute.
3. To present or reveal to; confront with: "went around talking to people about anything until he could lay his standard question on them" (John Vinocur).
1. To arrange according to a plan: laid out the seating of the guests.
2. To clothe and prepare (a corpse) for burial.
3. To rebuke harshly: She laid me out for breaking the vase.
4. To knock to the ground or unconscious: laid out his opponent with a left hook.
5. To expend; spend: lay out a fortune on jewelry.
6. To display: lay out merchandise; lay the merchandise out.
To make a stopover in the course of a journey.
lay to Nautical
1. To bring (a ship) to a stop in open water.
2. To remain stationary while heading into the wind.
1. To stock for future use: lay up supplies for a long journey.
2. Informal To confine with an illness or injury: was laid up for a month.
3. Nautical To put (a ship) in dock, as for repairs.
4. Sports To hit a golf shot less far than one is able so as to avoid a hazard.
lay down the law
To issue orders or instructions sharply or imperiously.
lay it on thick Informal
To exaggerate or overstate something.
1. To keep oneself or one's plans hidden.
2. To bide one's time but remain ready for action.
3. To cause to be dead or unable to get up from a lying position: How many soldiers were laid low in that battle? The flu has laid low thousands.
lay of the land
The nature, arrangement, or disposition of something.
lay rubber Slang
To accelerate a motor vehicle suddenly from a stop so that the wheels spin rapidly.
To ravage: Rebel troops laid waste the town.
[Middle English leien, from Old English lecgan; see legh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: Lay ("to put, place, or prepare") and lie ("to recline or be situated") have been confused for centuries; evidence exists that lay has been used to mean "lie" since the 1300s. Why? First, there are two lays. One is the base form of the verb lay, and the other is the past tense of lie. Second, lay was once used with a reflexive pronoun to mean "lie" and survives in the familiar line from the child's prayer Now I lay me down to sleep; lay me down is easily shortened to lay down. Third, lay down, as in She lay down on the sofa sounds the same as laid down, as in I laid down the law to the kids. · By traditional usage prescription, these words should be kept distinct according to the following rules. Lay is a transitive verb and takes a direct object. Lay and its principal parts (laid, laying) are correctly used in the following examples: He laid (not lay) the newspaper on the table. The table was laid for four. Lie is an intransitive verb and cannot take an object. Lie and its principal parts (lay, lain, lying) are correctly used in the following examples: She often lies (not lays) down after lunch. When I lay (not laid) down, I fell asleep. The rubbish had lain (not laid) there a week. I was lying (not laying) in bed when he called. · There are a few exceptions to these rules. The phrasal verb lay for and the nautical use of lay, as in lay at anchor, though intransitive, are standard.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.