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Definition lay

Etymology 1

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.
  2. (transitive, archaic) To cause to subside or abate.
  3. (transitive) To prepare (a plan, project etc.); to set out, establish (a law, principle).
  4. (transitive) To install certain building materials, laying one thing on top of another.
  5. (transitive) To produce and deposit an egg.
  6. (transitive) To bet (that something is or is not the case).
  7. (transitive) To deposit (a stake) as a wager; to stake; to risk.
  8. (transitive, slang) To have sex with.
  9. (nautical) To take a position; to come or go.
  10. (law) To state; to allege.
  11. (military) To point; to aim.
  12. (ropemaking) To put the strands of (a rope, a cable, etc.) in their proper places and twist or unite them.
  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.
  16. To impose (a burden, punishment, command, tax, etc.).
  17. To impute; to charge; to allege.
  18. To present or offer.

lay (countable and uncountable, plural lays)

  1. Arrangement or relationship; layout.
  2. A share of the profits in a business.
  3. A lyrical, narrative poem written in octosyllabic couplets that often deals with tales of adventure and romance.
  4. The direction a rope is twisted.
  5. (colloquial) A casual sexual partner.
  6. (colloquial) An act of sexual intercourse.
  7. (slang, archaic) A plan; a scheme.
  8. (uncountable) the laying of eggs.
  9. (obsolete) A layer.

Etymology 2

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 3

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.
  2. Not belonging to the clergy, but associated with them.
  3. (obsolete) Not educated or cultivated; ignorant.

Etymology 4

See lie



  1. simple past tense of lie when pertaining to position.
  2. (proscribed) To be in a horizontal position; to lie (from confusion with lie).

Etymology 5

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 6

See lea


lay (plural lays)

  1. (obsolete) A meadow; a lea.

Etymology 7


lay (plural lays)

  1. (obsolete) A law.
  2. (obsolete) An obligation; a vow.

Etymology 8

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)).

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