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See also: Lay, láy, lấy, and laþ




Etymology 1Edit

From Middle English layen, leggen, from Old English leċġan (to lay), from Proto-Germanic *lagjaną (to lay), causative form of Proto-Germanic *ligjaną (to lie, recline), from Proto-Indo-European *legʰ- (to lie, recline). Cognate with West Frisian lizze (to lay, to lie), Dutch leggen (to lay), German legen (to lay), Norwegian Bokmål legge (to lay), Norwegian Nynorsk leggja (to lay), Swedish lägga (to lay), Icelandic leggja (to lay), Albanian lag (troop, band, war encampment).


lay (third-person singular simple present lays, present participle laying, simple past and past participle laid)

  1. (transitive) To place down in a position of rest, or in a horizontal position.
    to lay a book on the table;   to lay a body in the grave
    A shower of rain lays the dust.
    • Bible, Daniel vi. 17
      A stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den.
    • 1735, author unknown, The New-England Primer, as reported by Fred R. Shapiro in The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Yale University Press, pages 549–550:
      Now I lay me down to sleep, / I pray the Lord my Soul to keep. / If I should die before I ’wake, / I pray the Lord my Soul to take.
    • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 1, in The Celebrity:
      He used to drop into my chambers once in a while to smoke, and was first-rate company. When I gave a dinner there was generally a cover laid for him.
    • 1977, Agatha Christie, chapter 4, in An Autobiography, part I, London: Collins, ISBN 978-0-00-216012-4:
      An indulgent playmate, Grannie would lay aside the long scratchy-looking letter she was writing (heavily crossed ‘to save notepaper’) and enter into the delightful pastime of ‘a chicken from Mr Whiteley's’.
    A corresponding intransitive version of this word is lie.
  2. (transitive, archaic) To cause to subside or abate.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, II.viii:
      The cloudes, as things affrayd, before him flye; / But all so soone as his outrageous powre / Is layd, they fiercely then begin to shoure []
    • 1662, Thomas Salusbury, Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems, Dialogue 2:
      But how upon the winds being laid, doth the ship cease to move?
  3. (transitive) To prepare (a plan, project etc.); to set out, establish (a law, principle).
    • 2006, Clive James, North Face of Soho, Picador 2007, p. 48:
      Even when I lay a long plan, it is never in the expectation that I will live to see it fulfilled.
  4. (transitive) To install certain building materials, laying one thing on top of another.
    lay brick;  lay flooring
  5. (transitive) To produce and deposit an egg.
  6. (transitive) To bet (that something is or is not the case).
    I'll lay that he doesn't turn up on Monday.
  7. (transitive) To deposit (a stake) as a wager; to stake; to risk.
  8. (transitive, slang) To have sex with.
    • 1944, Raymond Chandler, The Lady in the Lake, Penguin 2011, p. 11:
      ‘It's because he's a no-good son of a bitch who thinks it is smart to lay his friends' wives and brag about it.’
  9. (nautical) To take a position; to come or go.
    to lay forward;  to lay aloft
  10. (law) To state; to allege.
    to lay the venue
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Bouvier to this entry?)
  11. (military) To point; to aim.
    to lay a gun
  12. (ropemaking) To put the strands of (a rope, a cable, etc.) in their proper places and twist or unite them.
    to lay a cable or rope
  13. (printing) To place and arrange (pages) for a form upon the imposing stone.
  14. (printing) To place (new type) properly in the cases.
  15. To apply; to put.
    • Bible, Proverbs xxxi. 19
      She layeth her hands to the spindle.
  16. To impose (a burden, punishment, command, tax, etc.).
    to lay a tax on land
    • Bible, Isaiah liii. 6
      The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
  17. To impute; to charge; to allege.
  18. To present or offer.
    to lay an indictment in a particular county;   to lay a scheme before one
Usage notesEdit

The verb lay is sometimes used interchangeably with the verb lie in informal spoken settings. This can lead to nonstandard constructions which are sometimes objected to. This usage is common in speech but rarely found in edited writing or in more formal spoken situations.

Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for lay in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)

Derived termsEdit



lay (countable and uncountable, plural lays)

  1. Arrangement or relationship; layout.
    the lay of the land
  2. A share of the profits in a business.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 16
      I was already aware that in the whaling business they paid no wages; but all hands, including the captain, received certain shares of the profits called lays, and that these lays were proportioned to the degree of importance pertaining to the respective duties of the ship’s company.
  3. lyrical, narrative poem written in octosyllabic couplets that often deals with tales of adventure and romance.
    • 1945: "The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun" by JRR Tolkien
      Sad is the note and sad the lay,
      but mirth we meet not every day.
  4. The direction a rope is twisted.
    Worm and parcel with the lay; turn and serve the other way.
  5. (colloquial) A casual sexual partner.
    • 1996, JoAnn Ross, Southern Comforts, MIRA (1996), ISBN 9780778315254, page 166:
      Over the years she'd tried to tell himself that his uptown girl was just another lay.
    • 2000, R. J. Kaiser, Fruitcake, MIRA (2000), ISBN 1551666251, page 288:
      To find a place like that and be discreet about it, Jones figured he needed help, so he went to see his favorite lay, Juan Carillo's woman, Carmen.
    • 2011, Kelly Meding, Trance, Pocket Books (2011), ISBN 9781451620924, pages 205-206:
      “Because I don't want William to be just another lay. I did the slut thing, T, and it got me into a lot of trouble years ago. []
    What was I, just another lay you can toss aside as you go on to your next conquest?
  6. (colloquial) An act of sexual intercourse.
    • 1993, David Halberstam, The Fifties, Open Road Integrated Media (2012), ISBN 9781453286074, unnumbered page:
      Listening to this dismissal of his work, [Tennessee] Williams thought to himself of Wilder, “This character has never had a good lay.”
    • 2009, Fern Michaels, The Scoop, Kensington Books (2009), ISBN 9780758227188, pages 212-213:
      [] She didn't become this germ freak until Thomas died. I wonder if she just needs a good lay, you know, an all-nighter?" Toots said thoughtfully.
    • 2011, Pamela Yaye, Promises We Make, Kimani Press (2011), ISBN 9780373861996, unnumbered page:
      “What she needs is a good lay. If she had someone to rock her world on a regular basis, she wouldn't be such a raging bit—”
  7. (slang, archaic) A plan; a scheme.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Charles Dickens to this entry?)
  8. (uncountable) the laying of eggs.
    The hens are off the lay at present.

Derived termsEdit

Etymology 2Edit

From Middle English laie, lawe, from Old English lagu (sea, flood, water, ocean), from Proto-Germanic *laguz (water, sea), from Proto-Indo-European *lakw- (water, body of water, lake). Cognate with Icelandic lögur (liquid, fluid, lake), Latin lacus (lake, hollow, hole).


lay (plural lays)

  1. A lake.

Etymology 3Edit

From Old French lai, from Latin laicus, from Ancient Greek λαϊκός (laïkós).


lay (comparative more lay, superlative most lay)

  1. Non-professional; not being a member of an organized institution.
    • 1960, P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, chapter VII:
      He hasn't caught a mouse since he was a slip of a kitten. Except when eating, he does nothing but sleep. [...] It's a sort of disease. There's a scientific name for it. Trau- something. Traumatic symplegia, that's it. This cat has traumatic symplegia. In other words, putting it in simple language adapted to the lay mind, where other cats are content to get their eight hours, Augustus wants his twenty-four.
  2. Not belonging to the clergy, but associated with them.
    They seemed more lay than clerical.
    a lay preacher; a lay brother
  3. (obsolete) Not educated or cultivated; ignorant.
Related termsEdit
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.

Etymology 4Edit

See lie



  1. simple past tense of lie when pertaining to position.
    The baby lay in its crib and slept silently.
  2. (proscribed) To be in a horizontal position; to lie (from confusion with lie).
    • 1969 July, Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay”, Nashville Skyline, Columbia:
      Lay, lady, lay. / Lay across my big brass bed.
    • a. 1970, Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”, Bridge over Troubled Water, Columbia Records:
      Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters / Where the ragged people go
    • 1974, John Denver, “Annie’s Song”, Back Home Again, RCA:
      Let me lay down beside you. / Let me always be with you.
Derived termsEdit

Etymology 5Edit

From Middle English lay, from Old French lai (song, lyric, poem), from Frankish *laih (play, melody, song), from Proto-Germanic *laikaz, *laikiz (jump, play, dance, hymn), from Proto-Indo-European *loyg-, *layǵ- (to jump, spring, play). Akin to Old High German leih (a play, skit, melody, song), Middle High German leich (piece of music, epic song played on a harp), Old English lācan (to move quickly, fence, sing). See lake.


lay (plural lays)

  1. A ballad or sung poem; a short poem or narrative, usually intended to be sung.

Etymology 6Edit

  This entry lacks etymological information. If you are familiar with the origin of this term, please add it to the page per etymology instructions. You can also discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.


lay (plural lays)

  1. (obsolete) A meadow; a lea.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Dryden to this entry?)

Etymology 7Edit


lay (plural lays)

  1. (obsolete) A law.
    • Spenser
      many goodly lays
  2. (obsolete) An obligation; a vow.
    • Holland
      They bound themselves by a sacred lay and oath.

Etymology 8Edit

Calque of Yiddish לייגן (leygn, to put, lay).


lay (third-person singular simple present lays, present participle laying, simple past and past participle laid)

  1. (Judaism, transitive) To don or put on (tefillin (phylacteries)).




Common Malayo-Polynesian, compare Indonesian layar



  1. sail