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Verb Confusion: Set/Sit, Lay/Lie, Raise/Rise

The pairs of verbs listed in the title of this post often create havoc for writers of all abilities. Frequent misuse makes them almost interchangeable in our ‘that sounds right’ mental monitor. They are, however, NOT interchangeable, and it is easy to learn how to use them correctly.

First, you need to understand what a direct object is. The direct object is a noun/pronoun that receives the action of the verb. The boy kicked the ball. Ball is the direct object. More examples:

The girl flew the kite.   What did she fly? The direct object–kite

The dog chewed the bone.  What did it chew? The direct object–bone

In the verb pairs listed above, the first one in each pair requires a direct object.


She set the table for dinner.   Direct object = table

I sit beside my brother.  No direct object

Lay the napkin by your plate.  Direct object = napkin

The boys lie down on their bed to read comic books.  No direct object

Students raise their hand to answer a question.  Direct object = hand

Every morning, I rise at six o’clock.  No direct object


This is pretty straightforward in present tense, as in these examples, but other tenses muddle the issue.

LIE: TO REST                                         LAY: TO PUT OR PLACE

present: lay   (requires a direct object)  If you lay the chocolate on the table, no one will get hurt.

past: laid  (requires a direct object) Yesterday, you laid the chocolate on the table and no one got hurt.

past participle: laid  (requires a direct object)  If you had laid the chocolate on the table every day, no one would be hurt.

present: lie (no direct object) The chocolates lie on the table.

past: lay (yes, really. See how confusing this is? No direct object) Yesterday, the chocolates lay on the table for two hours.

past participle: lain (no, I’m not kidding. It’s NOT laid. No direct object) If the chocolates had lain on the table all day, I would have eaten them.


SIT: TO BE SEATED OR LOCATED                          SET: TO PLACE

present: set (requires a direct object)  He set the cookie on the table.

past: set (yup, the same. Still requires a direct object) Yesterday, he set two cookies on the table.

past participle: set (no, I’m not crazy. Needs a direct object)  He had set four cookies on the table, but two fell to the floor.

present: sit (no direct object)  The cookies sit on the table.

past: sat (no direct object)  Last week, they only sat for an hour before being eaten.

past participle: sat  (no direct object)  If they had sat all day, they would have been stale.



present: raise (requires direct object)   I raise my hand to volunteer.

past: raised  (requires direct object)  Last week, I raised my hand to sharpen pencils.

past participle: raised  (what, again? requires direct object)  If I had raised my hand faster, I would have gotten to help shelve library books.

present: rise  (no direct object)    I rise slowly from my chair.

past: rose   (no direct object)  Last year, I rose faster.

past participle: risen  (oh, look, a regular verb! no direct object)  If I had risen slowly last year, I wouldn’t be getting up at all now.


I have to confess, lay/lie is still a tough one for me. I always have to look it up. Practice using them correctly, though, and you’ll score big on state tests, impress your family and friends, and have a deep sense of pride.

In hardback: Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson


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