There are 2 main definitions of pay in English:

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pay 1

Pronunciation: /peɪ/

verb (past and past participle paid /peɪd/)

1 [with object] Give (someone) money that is due for work done, goods received, or a debt incurred: [with object and infinitive]: the traveller paid a guide to show him across [no object]: I’ll pay for your ticket
More example sentences
  • I rubbed her arm and told her not to worry, that these people were paid for this kind of thing.
  • Yes, there is hard work to be done, but that is what the minister and his officials are paid for and that is what they must do.
  • The chief executive was dismissed and staff were not paid for six months.
reward, reimburse, recompense, give payment to, settle up with, remunerate, tip, indemnify
defray the cost of, settle up for;
finance, endow, donate/leave money for;
support, back, stake, fund, capitalize, provide finance/capital for, furnish credit for, subsidize, sponsor;
informal foot the bill for, shell out for, fork out for, cough up for
North American informal ante up for, pony up for
1.1Give (a sum of money) in exchange for goods or work done or to settle a debt: the company was rumoured to have paid 450p a share [with two objects]: they paid him an annual retainer
More example sentences
  • The booty enabled him to clear his debts and pay large sums into the treasury, all without incurring a risk of prosecution.
  • The city is booming, it is a beautiful place to live, and those who can afford it are willing to pay the price to settle here.
  • They are forced to take in three roomers who pay money in exchange for room and board.
1.2Hand over or transfer the amount due of (a debt, wages, etc.) to someone: I always prefer to pay all my bills by cheque
More example sentences
  • The crew members were only released 10 days later after an unspecified amount of ransom was paid.
  • But on the face of it there was a seamless transfer with rents being paid by the same system and services unaffected.
  • Even if you pay your tax bill on time, you are still liable to pay a surcharge for late filing.
discharge, settle, pay off, pay in full, meet, clear, square, defray, honour, satisfy, make good, liquidate
1.3(Of work, an investment, etc.) provide someone with (a sum of money): jobs that pay £5 an hour
More example sentences
  • Ultimately, the manager is confident his investments will pay handsome dividends.
  • Bar work pays a modest wage, so it's fortunate that Oceana helps by providing a subsidised cab service for its staff.
  • Issued by financially strong firms, these investments are paying an average yield of a little under 4.5% after tax.
1.4 [no object] (Of a business, activity, or an attitude) be profitable or advantageous: crime doesn’t pay [with infinitive]: it pays to choose varieties carefully
More example sentences
  • That's because agriculture does not pay, both for the producer and for government.
  • Learning pays in all sorts of ways - it can be the first step to a job or better job and to making new friends.
  • Your education pays when you get married, she philosophises.
yield, pay out, return, produce, bring in
informal rake in
be profitable, make money, make a profit, be remunerative, make a return, provide a living
be advantageous to, benefit, be of advantage to, be of benefit to, be beneficial to, be profitable to, be worthwhile to, repay, serve
2 [no object] Suffer a misfortune as a consequence of an action: the destroyer would have to pay with his life
More example sentences
  • Presumably he shouldn't be put in a situation where he might have to pay with his life.
  • If we carry on for much longer in this uninspiring vein, he may pay with his head.
  • They are the ones who speak out, resist, and pay with their liberty or their lives.
suffer, suffer the consequences, be punished, pay a penalty, atone, make atonement, pay the price, get one's deserts, take one's medicine
informal get one's comeuppance
3 [with two objects] Give (attention, respect, or a compliment) to (someone): no one paid them any attention
More example sentences
  • They don't consider things like paying attention to their pet, or walking him, giving him exercise, etc.
  • Indeed, they were, and so intently that they paid no attention to me in the car next to them.
  • Babs suffers a nervous breakdown when she realizes no one is paying attention to her.
3.1Make (a visit or call) to (someone): she has been prevailed upon to pay us a visit
More example sentences
  • Her husband Gary still pays daily visits to her grave
  • A mysterious man pays a visit to the landlord, making inquiries about his tenants.
  • Billy pays an informal visit to a policemen friend who dismisses it as a prank.
3.2 [with object] Give what is due or deserved to: it was his way of paying out Maguire for giving him the push


[mass noun]
The money paid to someone for regular work: an entitlement to sickness pay
More example sentences
  • The rates of pay and allowances now paid to MPs must have affected their behaviour.
  • Theses are very interesting skilled jobs, which have quite rewarding rates of pay.
  • Workers' hourly rates of pay also include allowances for board and lodgings.
salary, wages, wage, take-home pay, gross/net pay, payment;
earnings, fee(s), remuneration, stipend, emolument(s), honorarium, allowance, handout(s), recompense, compensation, reimbursement, reward, income, revenue, profit(s), proceeds, takings, gain, lucre



he who pays the piper calls the tune

proverb The person who provides the money for something has the right to determine how it’s spent.
Example sentences
  • I do understand the contrary view that he who pays the piper calls the tune.
  • ‘We understand that he who pays the piper calls the tune,’ he said.
  • It's also worth remembering that he who pays the piper calls the tune and that in the English courts it's still the norm to have two expert witnesses, each paid by a separate party to the litigation.

in the pay of

Employed by: mercenaries in the pay of one or other of the competing local rulers
More example sentences
  • Perhaps more so, when you consider that the four ‘civilian contractors’ would appear to be mercenaries in the pay of the occupation forces.
  • His timely rescue of London from a retreating force of Frankish mercenaries who had been in the pay of Allectus was a huge propaganda victory.
  • Yes, he was a willing mercenary in the pay of the government of Canada and a Crown corporation.

pay attention


pay one's compliments


pay court to

see court.

pay dearly

Obtain something at a high cost or great effort: his master must have paid dearly for such a magnificent beast
More example sentences
  • The taxpayer has already paid dearly for the construction of these houses, which cost £78,000 each in 1984, he said.
  • In other words you are paying dearly to maintain a loan while your ability to clear the debt is falling each year.
  • But, I made her pay dearly for her purchases - $227 for four yearbooks and an old diploma and almost $150 for a collection of papers and photographs.
6.1Suffer for a misdemeanour or failure: they paid dearly for wasting goalscoring opportunities
More example sentences
  • And over 100,000 Americans have paid dearly for this failure.
  • In this case, they haven't, and now they're paying dearly for their candour.
  • This was probably a mistake for which they would pay dearly.

pay one's dues

see due.

pay for itself

(Of a thing) earn or save enough money to cover the cost of its purchase: the best insulation will pay for itself in less than a year
More example sentences
  • In many parts of the country, this type of insulation will pay for itself in energy saved.
  • Not only can you work at your own pace, your hobby can pay for itself and you'll earn money as well!
  • In general, the cost of training pays for itself in just nine months.

pay it forward

Respond to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else: I will take the support I have had and try to pay it forward whenever I can
More example sentences
  • You'll get your chance to pay it forward.
  • I'm a big believer in the whole pay it forward idea.
  • Rather than accepting her money, Hyde told the motorist to "pay it forward to somebody else."

pay its (or one's) way

(Of an enterprise or person) earn enough to cover its or one’s costs: some students are paying their way through college
More example sentences
  • Aren't you as capable as him of earning a wage and paying your way?
  • Some of the guards are students, paying their way through college, but it's a job no one really wants.
  • The 31-year-old student of international relations is paying his way through grad school and doesn't have enough money left over for health insurance.

pay one's last respects

Show respect towards a dead person by attending their funeral.
Example sentences
  • He had many friends in the area and they all attended his funeral to pay their last respects to the popular Jim.
  • This week thousands of people will be expected to pay their last respects during the funerals on Wednesday.
  • His burial took place in Ballybracken Cemetery where a large crowd attended to pay their last respects.
regards, kind/kindest regards, compliments, greetings, best wishes, good wishes, felicitations, salutations
archaic remembrances
French archaic devoirs

pay one's respects

Make a polite visit to someone: we went to pay our respects to the head lama
More example sentences
  • Should I visit him and pay my respects, after the way he had treated me?
  • Earlier Wednesday, he visited the embassy to pay his respects.
  • All around, people queued in a polite but formal way to pay their respects.

pay through the nose

informal Pay much more than a fair price: they paid through the nose for one-to-one intensive tuition
More example sentences
  • For this, you need to know that you will pay through the nose; in fact you may well bleed through the nose when you see the bill.
  • Detractors complain about the outrageous prices of tickets, yet punters have not stopped paying through the nose.
  • We were paying through the nose for everything.

you pays your money and you takes your choice

informal Used to convey that there is little to choose between one alternative and another.
Example sentences
  • It is entirely reasonable - you pays your money and you takes your choice - but it also strengthens national stereotypes.
  • All-in-all, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
  • Well, as they say in the better places, you pays your money and you takes your choice…

Phrasal verbs


pay someone back

Repay a loan to someone: a regular amount was deducted from my wages to pay her back
More example sentences
  • Oh, and next time you pay her back on a loan ask for a receipt nicely.
  • They can always pay us back when things get better.
  • Don't worry Kate, please, he said it was only a loan and we are going to pay him back.
repay, pay off, give back, return, remunerate, compensate, make restitution/amends to, reimburse, recoup, refund, restore, make good, indemnify, requite
1.1Take revenge on someone: he had left him out to pay him back for stealing his wife
More example sentences
  • Then the universe or whatever is out there pays me back by making bad things happen to me and the people around me.
  • And somewhere down the road, she will be paying me back for all 118 guests who didn't show up.
  • I think my body is paying me back for subjecting it to a years' worth of hard shift work.
get one's revenge on, be revenged on, revenge oneself on, give someone their just deserts, reciprocate, punish, avenge oneself on, hit back at, get back at, get, get even with, settle a/the score with, settle accounts with, pay someone out, retaliate against, take reprisals against, exact retribution on;
let someone see how it feels, give someone a taste of their own medicine

pay something back

Repay a loan to someone: the money should be paid back with interest [with two objects]: they did pay me back the money
More example sentences
  • Part of the HUD loan would be paid back by the developers from property, sales and utility taxes.
  • Curiously, money ‘created out of thin air’ tends to disappear even when the loans are paid back.
  • He must spend the greater part of his time in the management of the company from the date of the investment until the loan has been paid back.

pay something in

Pay money into a bank account: this statement may include cheques that you’ve recently paid in
More example sentences
  • On the Monday morning I went to the bank to pay the money in, and realised that it was not in my purse or my bag.
  • I had no idea there was any problem with the new tax credits system until I checked my bank account this morning to see no money had been paid in.
  • But the amount they can earn tax-free on a standard equity fund or savings account drops to £100 a year if the money is paid in by a parent.

pay off

informal (Of a course of action) yield good results; succeed: all the hard work I had done over the summer paid off
More example sentences
  • In some cases of course, it can pay off handsomely, if the company makes a decent recovery.
  • We can only hope that, in the long term, the gamble pays off.
  • When we invest ourselves in our children, it often pays off in surprising ways.
meet with success, be successful, succeed, be effective, work, get results, be profitable

pay someone off

Dismiss someone with a final payment: when directors are fired, they should not be lavishly paid off
More example sentences
  • After she was paid off following poor sales of her last album, she came to see him.
  • But the album was a complete flop, and led to the firm paying her off to the tune of £20m.
  • They can't provide enough new business for me to get my teeth stuck into, so they decided to pay me off.
pay what one owes;
dismiss, discharge

pay something off

Pay a debt in full: I’ve saved up enough to pay off my mortgage
More example sentences
  • The interest charged on credit is very high and every month a bill is not paid off in full, the debt is compounded.
  • I couldn't believe that people were still giving such great donations, even after the debt was paid off.
  • When the debt is paid off, does he need to continue paying rent?
pay in full, pay, settle, discharge, meet, clear, square, honour, satisfy, make good, liquidate
get one's revenge on, be revenged on, revenge oneself on, repay, give someone their just deserts, reciprocate, punish, avenge oneself on, hit back at, get back at, get, get even with, settle a/the score with, settle accounts with, pay someone back, retaliate on/against, take reprisals against, exact retribution on;
let someone see how it feels, give someone a taste of their own medicine

pay something out (or pay out)

1Pay a large sum of money from funds under one’s control: she had to pay out £300 for treatment
More example sentences
  • It also means that the money is paid out more quickly, bypassing the long wait until probate is granted.
  • In most cases, funds are paid out over a three-year period.
  • After the final roll-over the money will be paid out to the next division, the second division winners.
2Let out (a rope) by slackening it: I began paying out the nylon line
More example sentences
  • Some of the towline was paid out to send the commuter astern of the schooner.
  • With a float tied to the end, we start to pay the line out to float behind us and arc round the stranded yacht.
  • All the instructions were given in Irish in those days and when the spyer saw the fish he'd tell the captain and the seine net would be paid out.

pay up (or pay something up)

Pay a debt in full: you’ve got ninety days to pay up the principal
More example sentences
  • And if you have old debts, pay them up, until you are free of outstanding financial debts.
  • Admission is by ticket only and no one can get in unless they are paid up and can produce their ticket.
  • He also said that no one should play until all his or her fees are paid up.
make payment, pay, settle up, pay in full, meet one's obligations, come up with the money
informal fork out/up, come across, cough up
British informal stump up


Middle English (in the sense 'pacify'): from Old French paie (noun), payer (verb), from Latin pacare 'appease', from pax, pac- 'peace'. The notion of 'payment' arose from the sense of 'pacifying' a creditor.

  • The original meaning of pay was ‘to pacify’, and it goes back to Latin pax ‘peace’ ( see peace). The notion of ‘payment’ arose from the sense of ‘pacifying’ a creditor. A cartoon caption from the magazine Punch in 1846 was the source of you pays your money and you takes your choice, used to convey that there is little to choose between one alternative and another.

Words that rhyme with pay

affray, agley, aka, allay, Angers, A-OK, appellation contrôlée, array, assay, astray, au fait, auto-da-fé, away, aweigh, aye, bay, belay, betray, bey, Bombay, Bordet, boulevardier, bouquet, brae, bray, café au lait, Carné, cassoulet, Cathay, chassé, chevet, chez, chiné, clay, convey, Cray, crème brûlée, crudités, cuvée, cy-pres, day, decay, deejay, dégagé, distinguée, downplay, dray, Dufay, Dushanbe, eh, embay, engagé, essay, everyday, faraway, fay, fey, flay, fray, Frey, fromage frais, gainsay, Gaye, Genet, giclee, gilet, glissé, gray, grey, halfway, hay, heigh, hey, hooray, Hubei, Hué, hurray, inveigh, jay, jeunesse dorée, José, Kay, Kaye, Klee, Kray, Lae, lay, lei, Littré, Lough Neagh, lwei, Mae, maguey, Malay, Mallarmé, Mandalay, Marseilles, may, midday, midway, mislay, misplay, Monterrey, Na-Dene, nay, né, née, neigh, Ney, noway, obey, O'Dea, okay, olé, outlay, outplay, outstay, outweigh, oyez, part-way, Pei, per se, pince-nez, play, portray, pray, prey, purvey, qua, Quai d'Orsay, Rae, rangé, ray, re, reflet, relevé, roman-à-clef, Santa Fé, say, sei, Shar Pei, shay, slay, sleigh, sley, spae, spay, Spey, splay, spray, stay, straightaway, straightway, strathspey, stray, Sui, survey, sway, Taipei, Tay, they, today, tokay, Torbay, Tournai, trait, tray, trey, two-way, ukiyo-e, underlay, way, waylay, Wei, weigh, wey, Whangarei, whey, yea

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There are 2 main definitions of pay in English:

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pay 2

Pronunciation: /peɪ/

verb (past and past participle payed)

[with object] Nautical
Seal (the deck or seams of a wooden ship) with pitch or tar to prevent leakage: an open groove between the planks had to be payed by running in hot pitch from a special ladle


Early 17th century: from Old Northern French peier, from Latin picare, from pix, pic- 'pitch'.

  • The original meaning of pay was ‘to pacify’, and it goes back to Latin pax ‘peace’ ( see peace). The notion of ‘payment’ arose from the sense of ‘pacifying’ a creditor. A cartoon caption from the magazine Punch in 1846 was the source of you pays your money and you takes your choice, used to convey that there is little to choose between one alternative and another.

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