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Which Is Correct: “Laid Off” or “Layed Off”?

Your boss explains that she has to lay off half of the department, and you’re left sweating, wondering if you’ll still have a job by the end of the day. That’s when you wake up with a start and cold sweat. The phrase “laid off” is hard enough to hear, but it’s even harder to spell, leaving you to wonder, is it “laid off” or “layed off”?

The correct spelling of the phrase is “laid off,” which explains getting released from employment, usually because the employer has to cut down on costs. The word “layed” doesn’t technically exist in formal English, although people will often use it colloquially. 

You usually hear the term “laid off” in the context of business or work-related conversations. Let’s take a look at the phrase “laid off” from a few different angles and examine the common errors that people make while using this expression.

What Does “Laid Off” Mean?

The expression “laid off” is the past participle form of the phrasal verb — sometimes called verb 3 — “to lay off,” which most often means “to cease to employ (a worker), often temporarily” (source). 

Because it’s a past participle, you can use it like an adjective or with helping verbs, such as “been,” “has been,” “had been,” “get,” and the forms of “to be.”

For more information on how to use past participles correctly, check out the article “Eaten or Ate: Past Tense vs. Past Participle.”

In addition to this definition, the term “laid off” also has a strong connotation. This means that there are implications or nuances that set the phrase “laid off” apart from its synonyms. Let’s check out the most common synonym for “laid off” and compare how their connotation and implications set them apart. 

“Laid Off” versus “Fired”

One of the most popular synonyms of “laid off” is “fired.” The word “fired” is also a past participle (of the verb “to fire”), and it has a very similar definition: “to force somebody to leave their job” (source). 

Usually, people use the term “laid off” when they want to express that the employee didn’t do anything wrong to lose their job. A layoff is often the result of a company’s budget cut or some unforeseen or unmitigable circumstances. 

On the other hand, people use the word “fired” to show that the employee was forced out of their job. In most cases, the word “fired” implies that the employee did something wrong, which is why their employer forced them out of their job.

So, even though it’s terrible to be laid off, most people consider getting laid off to be better than getting fired. That’s because getting laid off implies that you weren’t at fault; the connotation of the word changes the listener’s perception of you and the situation as a whole.

“Layed” Is Not a Word

In the English language, there is no such word as “layed.” However, many people use this spelling when they’re actually trying to write “laid.” The spelling for these two words is tricky because they are homophones. 

Homophones are words that we spell differently but that have the same pronunciation (source). So, even though “layed” and “laid” sound exactly the same when you say them out loud, only “laid” is the correct way to spell the word.

Is “Layed off” Grammatically Correct?

Because “layed” is not actually a word in English, the phrase “layed off” is not grammatically correct. However, with a quick spelling fix, you can make that phrase correct.

The spelling error results from confusion surrounding the verbs “to lay” and “to lie.” Because the phrase “laid off” is the past participle of “to lay off,” you need to use the verb 3 form of the causative verb. So, you have to spell it like “laid,” with “i,” and not with “y.” 

“To Lay” versus “To Lie”

Many people — even native English speakers — often confuse the verbs “to lay” and “to lie.” Let’s examine what each verb means, its different forms, and how to use them correctly. You’ll be using these confounding verbs like a pro!

“To Lay” Means to Set Down

Merriam-Webster defines the verb “to lay” as “to put or set (something) down.” You’ll notice that, even in the definition, the verb “to lay” requires a direct object. This is because it is a transitive verb. 

That means that you can always include a direct object that explains who or what receives the action of the verb. Have a look at this example:

The professor laid her books on the table and arranged her notes on the podium before the students arrived for the lecture. 

In this example, you can see how the verb “to lay” has a direct object: “her books.” This is because the verb “to lay” is transitive, and you should explain who or what receives the action of that verb.

With transitive verbs like “to lay,” use these tips to help you determine the subject and object of your sentence:

  • The subject describes who or what laid something.
  • The direct object describes who or what the subject laid.
  • The prepositional phrase describes where or when the subject laid the direct object. 

“To Lie” Means to Be Reclined or at Rest 

The form of the verb “to lie” that many people confuse with the verb “to lay” is actually a stative verb. This means that it doesn’t describe an action, but it describes a state of being instead. 

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This state of being form of the verb “to lie” is an intransitive verb. That means that you don’t include a direct object. Instead, the subject of the sentence is the one who lies. Check out this example for a clearer picture:

Margaret was lying in her bed and reading a book when she heard the doorbell ring. 

In this sentence, there is no direct object because the stative (or non-action) form of “to lie” is an intransitive verb. Instead, the subject (Margaret) is the one who lies in bed; she is the one in the state of lying.

“To Lie” Also Means to Say Something Untrue

Now, let’s have a look at the action verb “to lie.” In this case, when the verb describes an action that the subject is doing, “to lie” means to say something untrue. Again, this is an intransitive verb because the subject is the one who tells untrue statements. You can see that in action in this example:

My little sister lied about where she found the money; I knew it came from my mom’s drawer, but she said she found it on the street.

Here, you can see that the subject of the sentence (my little sister) is the one who told a lie. And you can see how we explain the topic of the lie with a prepositional phrase that begins with “about.” There is no direct object because the action form of “to lie” is an intransitive verb. 

For more information and examples about the verbs “to lie” and “to lay,” you should check out the articles “Lie Ahead or Lay Ahead: Differences in Meaning and Usage” and “Laying in Bed or Lying in Bed: Which Is Correct?

“Layoff” Is a Noun

What about when you want to describe the situation of being laid off? Lucky for you, there’s a single noun that encompasses that whole experience: “layoff.”

“Layoff” is a noun that explains the process, experience, or situation of laying someone off. It’s not a pleasant experience, and it’s difficult for the employers and the employees alike. 

Usually, people use the word “layoff” or “layoffs” to describe a pattern of people losing their jobs at a company; they use it to describe the situation of more than one person. 

You’ll notice that, sometimes, people use the word “layoff” as a plural — “layoffs.” When someone uses the plural countable noun “layoffs,” they’re usually referring to a wider situation involving a whole company or even multiple companies.

The word “layoff,” like many compound nouns that you can form with a phrasal verb, has a couple of spelling variations. In American English, people spell “layoff” as a closed compound, without a space or hyphen between the two parts of the word.

Image by mohamed_hasan via Pixabay

However, in British English, the word becomes a hyphenated compound. This means that people spell it like “lay-off” in the UK and in the many countries all over the world that use British English. 

Other Phrases With “Lay”

Of course, “lay off” isn’t the only expression that makes use of the verb “lay.” In fact, there are a few other phrasal verbs and compound nouns that start with “lay.” Here, we’ll look at some of the most common phrasal verbs and compound nouns with “lay,” plus their definitions and some examples. 

Phrasal Verbs With “Lay”

The verb “lay” is actually pretty popular for phrasal verbs. Here are the definitions of some of the most common phrasal verbs that include “lay,” plus some examples.

Phrasal VerbDefinitionExample
Lay downTo set something aside; to surrender something.At the end of the battle, the losing army laid down their weapons and raised the white flag as the victors approached the camp. 
Lay byTo discard; to store for future use.Every month, Sarah tries to lay by a hundred dollars because she is saving up for a big trip during her next summer vacation. 
Lay lowTo be inconspicuous; to stay out of everyone’s attention.The thieves decided to lay low for a few weeks before they sold the jewels; they didn’t want to attract the attention of the media or the police. 
Lay outTo arrange; to explain with a lot of detailRight before the football team took the field for their final championship game, their coach laid out the play and explained every step and action that the team would need to take to win the game and the title. 

Compound Nouns With “Lay”

Remember how we built the noun “layoff” to describe the situation or process surrounding getting laid off? In the same way, there are other compound nouns that start with “lay” and describe the experience or process of its corresponding phrasal verb. Have a look at these definitions and examples:

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Compound NounDefinitionExample
LayoutSetup or organizationBefore we started planning the decorations for the wedding, we went to the venue to see the layout of the space and the size of the tables.
LayoverWhen you have to wait at an airport before you can catch a connecting flight.Harry bought a really cheap ticket to Paris, but the trip included a 15-hour layover in Amsterdam, so it took him more than a day to reach his final destination. 
LayupA shot in basketball where the player uses one hand to put the ball close to the basket and then uses the backboard to bounce it into the hoop.My brother attempted a layup, but the defender from the other team stood right under the basket and prevented him from taking a good shot.

Final Thoughts

Trying to spell the past participle “laid off” can be just as frustrating as hearing you’ve lost your job. However, if you remember that the past participle is just the verb 3 spelling of the “to lay,” you’ll always get the spelling correct.

Of course, the word “layed” doesn’t exist in English, so that spelling will never be correct. This error stems from the differences between the verbs “to lay” and “to lie.” In the case of “laid off,” you have to base your spelling on “to lay,” whose past participle is “laid.” 

People use “laid off” to express a situation where someone loses their job, and although it has a similar definition to the word “fired,” the connotations of these two synonyms set them apart. 

You can use “laid off” to describe a situation where the employee was not at fault for losing their job, but you should use “fired” if the employee did something wrong to lose their job. Keep this distinction in mind, and you’ll always have just the right word!