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PAY: 31 Collocations and Idioms With Meanings and Examples

collocations and idioms with "pay"

If you have been learning English for a while, you are likely very familiar with the verb "pay". It often refers to the act of exchanging money for an item or service, but not always! In a collocated phrase, the meaning of the word may shift slightly and cause some confusion.


Collocations and idioms with PAY

List of common collocations and idioms with "pay" with example sentences and meanings. Phrases can be formed as "verb followed by noun" or used as "idioms". Here are some:

1. Pay a bill

 Said to pay a bill.

  • "I refuse to pay a bill if I am not satisfied with the service."

2. Pay a fine

Said to pay a fine.

  • "If you break the law, you sometimes have to pay a fine."

3. Pay a visit

 It is said when visiting someone,

  • "If you have time, pay a visit to the local museum."

4. Pay cash

It is said when making a cash payment.

  • "We'll have to pay cash for the tickets."

5. Pay one's respects

To offer (someone) a proper or formal expression of greeting, welcome, esteem, or well wishes. 

  • "I think we should go over and pay our respects to the new neighbors." 

To offer or express one's condolences or sympathy, particularly to someone's family following their death. 

  • "I'm heading to Janet's house after her father's funeral on Sunday to pay my respects to her and her family."

6. Pay someone a visit

To visit someone or something. 

  • "We need to pay Grandma a visit and see how her trip to Florida was."

7. Pay dirt

Something very, particularly, or abundantly valuable or useful, especially that which has been discovered after a long or arduous search. Used especially in the phrase "hit/strike pay dirt."

  • "I loved to search through my grandfather's attic when I was a kid, convinced that someday I would strike pay dirt."

8. Pay the price

If karma has come back to bite you and you are now suffering for any bad or evil actions that you have taken, you are paying the price. While paying the price of something does have a literal meaning, it is almost always used to describe someone paying a metaphorical price for someone’s evil actions, whether it be their own or someone or group that they hold very dear.

  • "He never took care of himself when he was young, so he is paying a dear price for that now."


9. Pay dividends

To cause or produce good results in the future due to an investment of time, money, or other resources.

  • "Being disciplined in the way you study now will pay dividends by the time your exams come around."

10. Pay in advance

To make a payment before one collects or receives the thing being purchased. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used after "pay" to specify who is being paid. 

  • "You'll have to pay them in advance for the tickets."

11. Pay over the odds

To spend more money on something than is typical, reasonable, or expected. Primarily heard in UK. 

  • "A lot of consumers end up paying over the odds to get the newest smartphones. I always wait a few months, because they're inevitably a good bit cheaper then."

12. Pay peanuts

To pay (someone) a very paltry or minuscule amount; to pay the absolute minimum amount necessary. A noun or pronoun can be used between "pay" and "peanuts." 

  • "I had a few jobs during college getting paid peanuts, but it was the only work I could find that fit in with my studies. You're never going to be able to hire an effective manager if you're only willing to pay them peanuts."

13. Pay the penalty

 To experience the consequences of one's actions or misdeeds.

  • "I sure paid the penalty for staying up late when I fell asleep at my desk in the library."

14. Pay (their) respects

When someone dies, you should pay your respects to them and their family so that they know you are thinking of them. In different cultures, the actions that make up paying your respects can differ greatly.

  • "I try to pay my respects to all of my ancestors at least once a year."

15. Pay through the nose (for something)

To pay an exorbitant amount of money (for something), especially more than is reasonable. 

  • "You can get pretty good meals on airplanes these days, but you're going to pay through the nose."

16. Pay to (do something)

To earn or save one money to do something; to be profitable or economical to do something.

  • "It pays to have your boiler serviced regularly to avoid having to pay for expensive repairs or replacements." 

To be beneficial or advantageous to one to do something.

  • "It always pays to have a good attorney on retainer for situations just like this." 

To greatly desire to do something. Used after the auxiliary verb "would" to form the subjunctive mood.

  • "Honestly, I would pay to see someone punch that jerk in the face."

17. Pay (someone) a compliment

Another thing that you can pay to someone else is a compliment. If you tell someone something good about them, you are paying them a compliment. This phrase usually carries a very genuine connotation, so if you say that someone paid you a compliment, you mean that they said that good thing without any sarcasm or ill intention.

  • "Felicia always blushed bright red when she heard her friends pay her a compliment."

18. Pay-for-play

Of or indicating something in which one must pay money to be able to participate. 

  • "You want to get in on this game? Well, it's pay-for-play, my friend—cash only!" 

Of or indicating something in which one must pay money in exchange for favor or power. 

  • "Politics is the biggest pay-for-play racket we've got. Huge corporations financially back candidates in order to have political influence in the future."

19. (you) pay your money and take your choice

You are the one paying, so the decision about something is yours. (Often used to indicate that there is not a clear advantage to one choice over another.)

  • "You could opt for the model with the stronger CPU, or you could put that cost toward a bigger hard drive. Pay your money and take your choice."

20. Pay the water bill

To go to the bathroom to urinate. Slang

  • "Excuse me a moment, I just need to go pay the water bill."

21. Pay the fiddler

To face, accept, or suffer repercussions for one's actions or words, especially that would be expected to incur punishment. (A less common version of "pay the piper.") 

  • "After three nights of heavy drinking, I'm really going to be paying the fiddler come Monday morning!"

22. Pay as (one) goes

To pay for purchases immediately, rather than using credit or deferring payment to a later date. 

  • "I don't like the idea of paying for a sofa over the span of an entire year—I'd rather pay as I go and own it outright!" 

To pay for costs as they are incurred, rather than being given a bill at the end of a certain period of time. Hyphenated if used as a modifier before a noun. 

  • "I find that paying as you go for electricity helps me control how much I use on a day-to-day basis."

23. Pay (for something) collect on delivery

To pay for a purchase when it is delivered, as opposed to paying in advance at the time of ordering. 

  • "I always prefer to pay collect on delivery so I can inspect my order before handing over any money."

24. Pay an arm and a leg (for something)

To pay an exorbitant amount of money for something. 

  • "The first-class cabins are by far the best way to travel on these cruise boats, but you pay an arm and a leg for them."

25. Pay heed to (something)

To listen carefully or pay close attention; to give (something) ample or due consideration. 

  • "You'd best pay heed to his advice, or you might end up suffering the mistakes he made in the past."

26. Pay lip service

To give a false or insincere declaration that one supposedly values, supports, respects, or believes in something.

  • "I'm tired of politicians who do nothing but pay lip service to the major issues affecting our country."

27. Pay (for something) out of pocket

To pay for something with one's own money. 

  • "The company is making me pay for all this equipment out of pocket!"

28. Pay the freight

To bear the cost(s) (of something); to pay or compensate payment (for something). 

  • "Every year, it's the government (and ultimately, the taxpayer) who has to pay the freight for over a million incarcerated prisoners."

29. Pay (someone) back

To repay an amount of money that was borrowed. 

  • "If you fail to pay your loan back in the minimum monthly installments, the bank will start charging exorbitant fees." 

To repay someone or some group. A noun or pronoun can be used between "pay" and "back." 

  • "I don't mind you borrowing money from me, but please pay me back as soon as possible." 

To return a favor given by someone or some group. A noun or pronoun can be used between "pay" and "back." 

  • "Thank you so much for taking the kids while I was in the hospital! I don't know how I'll pay you back." 

To get or seek revenge or retribution on someone or some group. A noun or pronoun can be used between "pay" and "back."

  • "The boss paid me back for my criticism by giving me the most tedious, mind-numbing assignments possible."

30. Pay well

If you are applying for a new job, you should check whether it pays well or not as part of your decision! A company or employer that pays well is one that gives you a good salary, or a good amount of money for the work that you are doing for them.

  • "The common understanding is that regardless of what you do, you can be paid well if you become an expert at a specific thing." 

31. Pay handsomely

From the literal side of this phrase, to pay handsomely means the same thing as to pay well. It means that you are compensated fairly (and often more than the average) for whatever it is that you are providing.

  • "Just because you make unique pieces of art every day doesn’t mean that someone is always willing to pay handsomely for one of them."



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