Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

lay - definition and synonyms

What are red words?

90% of the time, speakers of English use just 7,500 words in speech and writing. These words appear in red, and are graded with stars. One-star words are frequent, two-star words are more frequent, and three-star words are the most frequent.

Thesaurus diagram

The thesaurus of synonyms and related words is fully integrated into the dictionary. Click on the thesaurus category heading under the button in an entry to see the synonyms and related words for that meaning.

verb     lay pronunciation in American English
Word Forms
present tense
present participlelaying
past tenselaid
past participlelaid
  1. 1
    [transitive] to put someone or something down in a careful way, especially so that they are lying flat
    lay someone/something on something:

    Lay the baby on her back.

    lay someone/something across something:

    He laid his coat across the arm of the chair.

    We lay flowers on her grave once a week.

    Carmen laid her head against my shoulder and fell asleep.

    1. a.
      to put something such as pipes, wires, or a carpet into the correct position in the ground or on the floor, so that they are ready to be used

      The man’s coming to lay the hall carpet tomorrow.

      A hundred miles of new railroad track have been laid.

  2. 2
    [transitive] if a female animal such as a bird or fish lays an egg, it produces the egg by pushing it from its body
  3. 3
    [transitive] to carefully plan and prepare something that will be needed in the future to achieve an aim
    lay the groundwork/foundations:

    The project is intended to lay the groundwork for future research.

    lay a trap (for someone/something) (=prepare for catching someone or something):

    The gunman realized the police had laid a trap and quickly surrendered.

  4. 4
    [intransitive] spoken a way of sayinglie,” meaning to have your body in a flat position, that many people think is incorrect
  5. 5
    [transitive] mainly British if you lay the table or lay a place at a table, you prepare a table for a meal by putting forks, knives, spoons, dishes, etc. on it. The usual American word is set.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter


a lifestyle focussing on simple pleasures such as comfort and cosiness in the home, and spending time with friends and family

BuzzWord Article

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

add a word


A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog
Macmillan learn live love play