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Language tip of the week: pay

In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. These tips are based on areas of English (e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, etc) which learners often find difficult. Here is some advice about the patterns that follow the verb pay:

The verb pay is never followed by a direct object that refers to the thing you are buying. We pay for a product or service:

✗ Credit cards are used to pay the product you purchased without using cash.
✓ Credit cards are used to pay for the product you purchased without using cash.
✗ At that time, very few people could pay a university education.
✓ At that time, very few people could pay for a university education.

You can also use pay in these patterns:
▪  pay someone for something
▪  pay an amount of money for something
▪  pay someone an amount of money for something

It was rumoured that Texaco had paid the government over $800 million for drilling rights.
Have you paid your brother for the cinema tickets?

However, pay can be used with a direct object which refers to money that is paid for a specific purpose. The nouns most frequently used in this pattern are:
bill, charge, compensation, debt, fine, price, fee, rent, salary, tax, wage

Around one third of schoolchildren failed to enrol this year because their parents could not pay the school fees.
Married couples are taxed independently, and each spouse is responsible for paying tax on his/her own income.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • This is a good lesson on the verb “pay”. I would add a few more. “To pay down a debt”, “to pay on a loan”, “to pay back”. There are also some expressions using “pay”. “To pay forward” is a new expression which has just come up in the last few years. “To pay your dues” means to work for something in order to earn it.

  • Thank you for clarifying the proper usage of the word “pay”. Now I can use this word properly.:) Have a nice day!

  • This page is very important for all we. Teaches us to use the verb “to pay” of form correctly. Now I know how use this verb, “to pay”.Example:

    ” To pay to friend” … ” I should pay to the neighbor” … “I’m paying my debts :'( ” … “All in this life is to pay.”

    Thank very much! for this page.

  • This is a very good article, in which they are tips on how you use the verb pay. Here are some examples: “pay for the fine”, “pay for the rent”, “paying for the university education”.

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