I’ve seen these two sentences written in two different books:

  1. Then the whole army advanced against the three who were laying in wait for it calmly. (Albanian Folktales and Legends by Robert Elsie)

  2. Many times in the past we had faced attacks from our enemies, but lying in wait of the mightiest army of the world had ever known was a different matter. (The Siege by Ismaïl Kadaré translated by David Bellos)

Shouldn’t it be ‘lying in wait for’? And not ‘lying in wait of’ or ‘laying in wait for’?

  • Does this answer your question?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 14:17
  • Ismaïl Kadaré isn't a native Anglophone, so take no notice of the non-standard preposition usage there. That laying / lying distinction is just meaningless fodder for pedants. Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 20:49
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers The distinction is a causative one: laying something makes it lie just like raising something makes it rise and felling a tree makes it fall.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 20:56
  • @tchrist: I'm sure every native Anglophone knows you can only lay bricks, not lie them, so you won't find any written instance of people explaining how to lie bricks. But an awful lot of people have been perfectly happy to talk about laying in wait (and get published! :). I can live with that. Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 21:06
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    @MónicaQ: Oh. Well that means there's a translator involved. And that translator clearly doesn't know English very well - lots of native Anglophones either don't know or don't care about laying in wait, but they all know you lie in wait for your victim, not of him. I don't mind defending native Anglophones who "wrongly" use lay, but if someone is actually getting paid to do translation work, I don't think they should get away with that sort of thing! :) Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 0:40

2 Answers 2


There are three verbs:

lay (past tense)
lain (past participle) means to be or to stay at rest

laid (past tense)
laid (past tense) means to put or set down

lied ( past tense)
lied ( past participle) as used in "tell a lie"

In your case "laying in wait for" is more appropriate.

  • 6
    Why do you think people waiting to ambush someone are better described as "to put or set down" than as "to be or to stay at rest"?
    – Marthaª
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 23:13
  • 3
    What are they laying, eggs? Are these chickens?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 2:14

Garner's Modern English Usage (2016) says "laying" is a mistake:

Another common mistake is 'laying in wait' for 'lying in wait' quote

Another common mistake is laying in wait for lying in wait -- e.g.:

  • "Police say several armed assailants may have been laying [read lying] in wait at East 39th Street and Park Avenue." Erica Franklin, "14 Unsolved Murders Are Possibly Tied to Drug Sales," Indianapolis Star, 11 Oct. 1994, at A1.
  • "Dunlap has been accused of laying [read lying] in wait until closing time at the Chuck E Cheese restaurant, then systematically shooting the five employees still on duty," Ginny McKibben, "Ex-Friend Links Dunlap to Burger King Robbery." Denver Post, 1 Apr. 1995, at B4.
    Garner's Modern English Usage - 2016

ngram comparing "lying in wait for" to "laying in wait for"

ngram comparing "lying in wait of" to "laying in wait of"

"Lying in wait for" is the correct form, "lying in wait of" is at best rare nowadays and archaic, if not yet obsolete.

Lying in wait for

Laying in wait for

lying in wait of

laying in wait of

  • 2
    The Corpus of Contemporary American English shows 308 instances of lying in wait compared to just 29 instances of laying in wait. This makes more sense when you consider that COCA also includes various "non-curated" sources of live speech.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 14:49
  • 6
    Just because Google Books has found examples of "lying in wait of" doesn't make it correct; it merely shows it's been used. It's an order of magnitude less than "for", even in its apparent heyday.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:33
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    It might be called incorrect if it's so archaic as to be [practically] obsolete. And the recent uptick in of may be due to incorrect translation from foreign languages.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 16:48
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    @LPH en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_that_got_to_do_with_the...%3F -- "What have religious texts to do with this or anything else?"
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 9:47
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    I agree with @AndrewLeach here. It's misleading to suggest that preposition of is "valid" in a context like this. It had little currency even two centuries ago, and I'd have thought virtually every "current" instance would be citing historical texts. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:05

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