16 Collocations with Pay: pay cash, pay back, equal pay, gross pay, take home 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.

But don’t fear! Here are common phrases with the word pay, explained with plenty of examples to make sure you don’t get confused.

Collocations Having to Do with Exchanging Money for Something

Gross pay

When talking about salary or earnings, you often have to take taxes into account to get an accurate picture of how much money someone is earning. However, the money that you get directly from your employer (whether you have a traditional boss or are a freelancer) is usually your gross pay.

This is the money that you earn, before taxes have been taken out. The number for your gross pay is usually the number that is reported for surveys and official documents, including national censuses.

For people who do not make a lot of money, their gross pay and the money that they actually have to take care of their expenses is basically the same. If you make a lot more money, the gross pay is going to be far from representative, especially if you live in a country with high tax rates.


  • When I heard his gross pay, I was shocked that he was earning so much before I remembered that he pays so much in taxes.
  • Some tax exemptions allow you to deduct money that you earn from your gross pay, so you end up paying less in taxes.
  • Judging someone just by their gross pay is a terrible way to really understand the kind of lifestyle they live.

Pay a fine

If you have broken a law that is not too dangerous, the police may ask you to pay a fine. This means that you have to pay a little bit of money to make up for the wrong thing that you did! This is usually an amount that is not small but is manageable for many people (such as $100 for parking in the wrong place).

However, if you do a behavior that the government really does not want you to do, the fine may be very large! For example, in Taipei, if you eat while riding the subway, you can be fined up to $10,000.


  • I can’t believe I have to pay this fine! I didn’t do anything wrong.
  • Can you believe you have to pay a fine of $2,000 for smoking in a school zone?
  • For most things, there’s no way to get out of paying the fine.

Pay by cash/card/Apple Pay, etc.

When you want to buy something, there are many different ways that you can pay for it! Some of the most popular methods of payment include cash, credit card, debit card, and apps such as Apple Pay or even the Starbucks app. Regardless of the method that you use, you can say that you pay by that method.


  • Would you like to pay by cash or credit today?
  • I really try to pay by credit card whenever I can so that I can earn those reward points as often as possible.
  • The new methods of paying by phone feel weird when you try them for the first time, but they are actually extremely helpful when you get the hang of it!

Pay cash

The only payment type that you can use without a preposition is cash! You can pay cash for anything that you want, as long as it’s not online shopping. However, you can also pay with or pay by cash. All of these usages are correct.


  • If you pay cash for this tour, you can get a 3% discount off the list price.
  • I really hate paying cash because I never have the right amount and then get a ton of change to carry around in my pocket.
  • Some people really benefit from the anonymity that comes from paying cash.

Pay with cash/credit card/Apple Pay, etc.

Anything that you can pay by, you can pay with. Usually this means that you are exchanging something, such as physical cash or your bank account or credit card number, for what you are buying. These phrases are interchangeable and do not represent any difference in meaning.


  • The best thing to do when you are trying to get rid of your debt is just to pay with cash for everything.
  • In countries that you might think of as developing or second-rate, the payment system is really advanced! Everyone is paying with their cell phone nowadays!
  • Paying with credit card is really convenient, but it’s a real hassle if you lose it.

Pay for something

You can pay for the thing that you are getting in exchange for your money. Regardless of the method that you transferred money, you pay for something to buy it!


  • You don’t have to pay for dinner every time we meet up, you know!
  • Did you pay for that ice cream before you left the coffee shop?
  • If you ask your parents to pay for something, they may see it as an opportunity to hold more control and authority over you.

Pay someone back

If you owe someone money and you return it to them, you pay them back. This is usually used in the context of money (like a debt to the bank), but it can also apply to things like favors or acts of love.


  • I don’t think that I can ever pay my parents back for all that they have done while supporting me for the last 30 years!
  • Sue Ellen still has not paid me back for those Broadway tickets that she asked me to order for her online! I definitely do not want to lend her any more money until she does.
  • If you have ever owed money to the bank, pay them back as fast as possible because they will continue to hound and annoy you until you do!

Equal pay

This is a term that is almost always used to refer to the pay gap (the difference in payment) for gender. In many countries, women earn a significantly less amount of money than men, even if they do the same work.

Men who work under women can make more money than their female bosses as well! When people earn the same amount of money for the same amount of work, this is known as equal pay. This phrase is well-used in areas such as politics nowadays.


  • I can’t believe that it’s 2017 and women still don’t have equal pay!
  • Sometimes employers don’t want you to talk about how much money you make with your coworkers because they know they aren’t giving you equal pay.
  • Patty believes that equal pay is an important indicator of gender equality in any country or region.

Take home pay

The “opposite” of your gross pay is your take home pay. This is the money that you get to actually use, after you have paid your taxes. In many countries, the taxes that you have to pay depends heavily on the method with which you earned that money.

So, just because you and your closest friend both earned $100 doesn’t mean that the same amount of money will end up in your bank accounts. However, take home pay is a number that is much more useful in getting an idea of how much money a person earns.


  • In countries where the gross pay and the take home pay are crazy different, you can infer that the tax rate is probably equally high.
  • It’s better to think of your income as your take home pay rather than your gross pay because the take home pay number can tell you much more about what your budget should look like.

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.

Private companies in industries such as law or pharmaceuticals are notorious for paying well, while organizations like nonprofits and government or public sector jobs are notorious for not doing so.

Paying well is almost always used to talk about your salary (fixed regardless of the amount of work that you do) or wage (depends on the number of hours you work or the output that you put out).

  • I heard that Jason Hicks got that new job! I’ve heard that company he’s now working for pays really well.
  • The common understanding is that regardless of what you do, you can be paid well if you become an expert at a specific thing.
  • If a company that you really want to work for, doesn’t pay well for whatever reason, don’t forget to consider things like flexibility and opportunities for advancement before discounting it outright, especially if you’re new to the workforce.

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.

However, paying handsomely is more often used to talk about buying or selling something rather than about salary from an employer. If you are selling something, like a valuable painting or a car to someone, that person pays you handsomely if they pay you more than what that thing is worth.


  • My brother accidentally sold you that necklace, but it was my grandmother’s and has special meaning to me so I am willing to pay handsomely to get it back!
  • 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.
  • If you are able to position your product in the right way, people will be begging to pay you handsomely for it, regardless of the price.

Ability to pay

This collocation is a phrase commonly used in the business world to describe a target audience. Instead of trying to sell things to just anyone, most brands try to target a specific group of people who will be able to afford what they’re selling, and would happily spend money to get it.

They never want to target a group that does not have the ability to pay unless they do not care whether they will earn any money or not.


  • If your target audience does not have the ability to pay, you can bet that you are wasting your time creating your product.
  • Even if the people you serve don’t have the ability to pay, you can still pursue that field if you can find other people to back you. This is the way that many nonprofits work.
  • The biggest mistake that John made in his business was that he didn’t think to check whether the people he wanted to target had the ability to pay.

Collocations Having to Do with Giving Something Metaphorically

Pay someone a visit

If you go and meet someone, you pay someone a visit. While this can apply to most meetings, it often implies that you physically go to their location to see them – you do not agree to meet at a coffee shop or restaurant or another neutral place.

“Their” territory can be broad, however, including places like their home, their room, their office, or their car. It just has to be a physical place that belongs to them.


  • I haven’t been back to my alma mater in a while so I’m thinking of going back to pay my old thesis mentor a visit!
  • Walter has been waiting for his old baseball teammates to pay him a visit, but they have all been very busy and unable to take time out of their schedule.
  • It’s almost always a pleasant surprise to see someone from your past come pay you a visit!

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.
  • A really great and underrated way to make someone more comfortable around you – especially a child – is to pay them a compliment for something they are doing.
  • When you pay your compliments to a child, it’s far better for their future mental health to encourage the effort that they put into something rather than any natural ability that they seem to have.

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.

Sometimes, for example, you can just attend the person’s funeral and make sure to greet the family members. Other times, it may involve visiting that person’s grave at the cemetery, bringing flowers to a monument, or something else.


  • I try to pay my respects to all of my ancestors at least once a year.
  • Chinese culture has a special holiday set aside specifically for paying respects to your elders who have passed away.
  • Even if you don’t know the person very well, you should pay your respects to anyone who was a part of any community you are a part of.

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.

This collocation is not to be confused with phrases like paying half price or paying a discounted price, both of which refer to the exchange of money for a product or service.


  • One of the most famous examples of paying the price is in Christian lore, where Jesus is said to have paid the price for human sin.
  • He never took care of himself when he was young, so he is paying a dear price for that now.
  • Everyone regrets their actions when they are paying the price for them, but most people couldn’t care less if they were not being punished.

Collocations with pay are numerous, and many of them have metaphorical meanings! Don’t get them confused with the exchange of money.

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