Pay, Pay Off or Pay Out?

Pay, Pay Off or Pay Out?

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. An English proverb

Read the article to learn about the differences in meaning and to practice using the verbs pay (for something), pay off and pay out.

Paying (something & for something)

Basically, we use the verb pay like this:

Pay someone for something: 1) I pay you for your work. 2) The company pays her for her services. 3) We paid (them) 200 dollars for the translation. 4) Pay the cashier for your meal.

You can also pay something (collocating nouns are underlined): 1) Can I pay the utility bill, please? 2) How can I pay my monthly rent? 3) You must pay taxes. 4) Can I pay this invoice later?

Remember that you pay for something when you give money to someone in order to receive an item. You pay something like goods or services you have already received.

When specifying how you pay, use the following prepositions:

  • Will you be paying by cash, cheque, or credit card?
  • I’d like to pay with my card.
  • There’s a reduction if you pay (in) cash.
  • Can I pay in dollars?

So, when you mention a currency, use in; when talking about a means of payment, use by; when mentioning the tool/object used for making a payment, use with. Cash is money, so just like you pay money, you pay cash (you are never wrong if you don’t use a preposition, but with cash you can also use in, just like you can say pay in dollars; pay dollars is also possible: We can’t afford to pay dollars for this).

Paying off

If you pay something off, you give someone all the money that you have borrowed from them to buy something: 1) Only another six months and the house will be paid off. 2) There are no charges if you want to pay the loan off early. 3) Pay off the most expensive debt first. 4) Pay off your credit card as soon as possible.

The difference between paying something and paying off something is that when you pay off a thing you bought (e.g. a house or car) or some money (e.g. a loan or a debt), you imply that the money has been borrowed to buy the thing; when you pay something, you have received an item or a service but there hasn’t necessarily been some borrowing.

Paying out

If you pay something out, you spend (or pay) money, especially a lot of money: 1) We’ve paid out thousands of pounds in health insurance over the years. 2) A non-traditional insurance policy may pay out on much smaller individual losses. 3) The federal government paid out $7.7 billion as a result of damage caused by hurricanes this year. 4) Football clubs pay out millions of pounds for players.

When choosing a preposition to use after pay out, remember just like you invest in something, you pay out money in something (e.g. health insurance); just like you pay for something, you pay out money for something (or someone like football players); finally, if money is paid out on something, it’s likely about an investment or an insurance claim (e.g. Insurance companies were slow paying out on claims for flood damage.)

How do I pay out my personal loan?

Note that you can pay off your loan and you can pay out your loan. Saying pay out, you emphasize how massive the loan is, and saying pay off, you just talk about the fact of paying the money you need to pay.

Pay out and pay off can be used as intransitive verbs (with no object):

  • It’ll be a few years before our investments start paying out. (1)
  • All those weeks of studying will pay off when you take the exam. (2)

As you can see from the examples above, if something (like an an investment) pays out, you get a return on your investment. If something (like an effort) pays off, it’s worth it and it brings you some benefit (not necessarily financial).


Choose the right/best word/words to complete the sentences. The answer key is at the bottom of the page.

  1. Can I really pay/pay off/pay out my mortgage early?
  2. Future generations will be obliged to pay/pay off/pay out millions upon millions of dollars for fertilizers in order to produce crops on the lands.
  3. You’d have to be a millionaire to pay/pay for/pay out a loan like that!
  4. Helen paid for/paid off/paid out the tickets.
  5. He’s out of work, so how he pays/pays off/pays out his rent is a mystery to me.
  6. I’ve just paid out/paid for/paid off £700 to get the car fixed.
  7. Paying off/paying out/paying for your credit card is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
  8. Paying out/paying off/paying for your credit card balance in full every month shows lenders that you are a responsible borrower.
  9. All the hard work I had done over the summer paid off/paid out/paid.
  10. Many policies pay/pay off/pay out only after a period of weeks or months.
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. An English proverb

Answer key: 1. pay off 2. pay out 3. pay out 4. paid for 5. pays 6. paid out 7. Paying off 8. Paying off 9. paid off 10. pay out

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