Commonly Confused Verbs

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What are they?

English is a tricky language, and from time-to-time, some words can trip you up when you are trying to decide on the proper spelling or meaning. That is often the case with certain verb pairs that share forms and meanings. Three verb pairs that top the list of commonly confused verbs are “lie vs. lay,” “sit vs. sat” and “rise vs. raise.”

Transitive versus intransitive verbs

When verb pairs are confusing, identifying between these two types of verbs is a helpful way to choose the right word. A transitive verb is an action verb that requires a direct object. The direct object is found by asking, “Who or what is completing the action of the verb?” An intransitive verb does not have a direct object following the action verb.

Lie versus lay

The verbs “lie” and “lay” have different meanings. “Lie” means to recline or rest,” and “lay” means to put down or place. Use “lay” to show an action that a person does to or for someone or something else. Use “lie” to show an action that a person does alone. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Can you lay out my uniform? (“You” is the subject of the verb “lay,” and the object is “uniform.” “Lay” is a transitive verb, which needs a direct object to describe the action that is done to something.)

Example 2: She lies down for a nap every day at 3 p.m. (“Lie” is an intransitive verb that describes an action taken by the subject, and it does not take an object.)

Lie vs. lay tenses:

  • Lay, laying (present), laid (simple past) and laid (past participle)
  • Lie, lying (present), lay (simple past) and lain (past participle)

Note: The past participle is used with the auxiliary, or helping verbs, “has,” “have” or “had.”

Consider the following example:

Example: She had laid the tools on the workbench. (“She” is the subject of the past participle verb “had laid,” and the object is “tools.” “Had laid” is a transitive verb.)

The verb pair “lie” vs. “lay” is confusing because “lay” is a present tense verb for itself as well as a past tense verb for “lie.” Consider the following example:

Example: I lay down for a rest. (In this sentence, “lay” means to recline or rest and is the past tense of the word “lie.”)

The most important distinction to remember is that people lie down, but you lay something down; remembering this goes a long way in helping you choose the correct word.

Sit vs. sat

The verb “sit” means seated or in a resting position. It is used to show an action of an animal or person; it is also an intransitive verb and does not take an object. “Set” means to place or put, and it is a transitive verb that needs a direct object to describe an action that is done to something or someone. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: My boyfriend sits next to me in class. (“Boyfriend” is the subject of the verb “sits.” “Sits” is an intransitive verb and does not take an object.)

Example 2: Emily set the groceries on the counter. (“Emily” is the subject of the verb “set,” and the object is “groceries.” “Set” is a transitive verb, which needs a direct object to describe the action that is done.)

Sit vs. sat tenses:

  • Sit (present), sat (simple past) and sat (past participle)
  • Set (present), set (simple past) and set (past participle)

Consider the following examples:

Example 1: You should set the baby down for a nap. (In this sentence, “set” means “to place or put” and is transitive.)

Example 2: You should sit down to relax. (In this sentence, “sit” means “in a resting position” and is intransitive.)

Rise vs. raise

The verb pair “rise vs. raise” share similar definitions, but they are not interchangeable. “Rise,” means a customary or steady movement upward, and it is an intransitive verb because it does not require an object to do the motion. On the other hand, “raise” is defined as to cause to rise, and it requires an object to cause the motion and is a transitive verb.

Consider the following examples:

Example 1: The sun rises every morning. (“Sun” is the subject and “rises” is the intransitive verb; it does not require an object to do the motion.)

Example 2: The kindergartner raised his hand to answer the teacher’s question. (“Kindergartner” is the subject, “raised” is the transitive verb and “hand” is the object. In this case, “raised” required an object to cause the motion.)

Rise vs. raise tenses:

  • Rise (present), rose (simple past) and risen (past participle)
  • Raise (present), raised (simple past) and raised (past participle)

The word “rise” has several common uses that mean to move upwards (in this case by itself). Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Raymond likes to rise at the crack of dawn (to get up from bed or sleep).

Example 2: Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday (to return from death).

Example 3: Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance (to assume an upright position from sitting).

The word “raise” has several common uses that mean to move upwards (in this case, something else is needed to raise something). Consider the following examples:

Example 1: The landlord raised my rent by 18 percent (to cause a rise in an amount or level).

Example 2: My older sister, Grace, raised me (to bring to maturity).

Example 3: The headmaster raised the flag (to lift something).