There are two ways to distinguish between these words: (a) master their meanings and (b) learn which ones require direct objects (a noun or pronoun following the verb that receives the action of the verb). I use a combination of these methods.
Lie (lie, lying, lay, (have) lain) means to recline or to remain in a fixed position. It needs no object. Examples:
Mrs. Jones lies down for a nap every morning. (She
She lay down late yesterday because she had a visitor.
Her book is lying on the nightstand. (It remains there).
Lay (lay, laying, laid, (have) laid) means to put or place something down. It has an object. Examples:
Lay the dictionary on the desk. (Lay means put. Lay
what? Lay has an object, the dictionary.)
I laid the book there yesterday. (Laid means put. It has
an object, book.)
The workmen are laying carpet. (The men are putting
down carpet. Laying has an object, carpet.)
What makes lay/lie even more confusing is that the past tense of lie is lay.
Rise (rise, rising, rose, (have risen) means to arise; to get up; to go up. It does not require an object. Examples:
The sun has always risen in the east. (There is no object;
the sun does not have someone pushing it up)
Like the sun, stars rise in the east.
Raise (raise, raising, raised, (have) raised) means to lift up, force up, put up, or to grow a crop. It must have an object. Examples:
Raise your hand if you have a question. (Raise means
put up. Raise what? Your hand. There is an object, so
raise is correct.)
I raised the window yesterday to air out the house.
(Raise means put up. It has an object, window.)
Sit (sit, sitting, sat, (have) sat) means to take a seat or to rest. It does not have an object. Examples:
I always sit in that chair. (I always rest my body there.
Sit what? There is no object.)
I sat by the window for hours. (I kept my body there. Sat
has no object.)
Set (set, set, setting, (have) sat) means to place, to put, or to decide upon something. It requires an object. Examples:
Joan set the vase on the table. (She put the vase on the
table. Set what? The vase. Set has an object.)
Tom set the toolbox on the shelf. (Set means put; there
is an object—the toolbox).
Lay, raise, and set require objects to receive their action. If a noun immediately follows the verb and receives its action, these are the correct choice. In addition, they each involve someone or something putting something. If you remember this, these troublesome words will be problems no longer.