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I already knew the expression, "to foot the bill," and there is also, "to fill the bill." I initially thought this was just a variant, but on closer examination it seems to be an altogether different idiomatic expression.

So what's the difference?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

To foot the bill is to cover the costs or expenses of something or someone. Of the meanings of the verb foot is to pay for/cover. Thus, expressions such as I'll foot it, foot the expenses, foot the costs, etc, are also valid.

foot verb (informal): pay (the bill) for something, especially when the bill is considered large or unreasonable.

Oxford Dictionaries


  • Not to worry. I'll foot the bill.
  • That wedding must have cost an arm and a leg! I wonder how they managed to foot the bill.

To fill the bill means to be suited/fulfill all requirements. (Fit may be more common than fill for this expression.)

fit (or fill) the bill: be suitable for a particular purpose

Oxford Dictionaries


  • We need someone who is aggressive, motivated and disciplined. Do you fit the bill?
  • He doesn't look like someone who fills the bill.
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1  
I'm a native English speaker and I'd never heard "to fill the bill" meaning to "fit the bill" before! Thanks :) –  starsplusplus Jan 17 at 15:42
  • fit (or fill) the bill: be suitable for a particular purpose (a partner is an ally or a companion, and you don't seem to fit the bill).
  • foot (or pick up) the bill: (informal) pay the bill, especially when the bill is considered large or unreasonable.

form the New Oxford American Dictionary

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To foot the bill is an expression meaning to pay for something.

To fill the bill means that something satisfies a need or fits the desired specifications well.

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Looks like lots of folks have mentioned how the two senses differ. I think it's worth pointing out that the word "bill" has several meanings in English, which ties into this. Consider these two meanings:

an itemized statement of money owed for goods shipped or services rendered; "he paid his bill and left";

vs

a list of particulars (as a playbill or bill of fare)

In the case of "foot the bill", we're talking about a statement of money owed (in many cases, a literal statement on paper).

For "fill the bill" the meaning is more like "matches this set of requirements", which relates to the second meaning of "bill".

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More generally, bill covers all sorts of documents, originally sealed (derived from Latin bulla in the sense of the seal on a document), then becoming more general, and then splitting into a variety of more specific senses, of which these are two (the legal and legislative senses would probably be the next most common, but there are a great many others). –  Jon Hanna Jan 17 at 11:09

I'm not a native nor fluent speaker of English, but I think 'bill' used in the context means a kind of a printed notice for advertisement. Therefore, 'if sb fills the bill' can be interpreted to mean that he is cut out for the job.

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Thanks for taking the time to answer, however the answers before your have sufficiently answered the question. I think your time would be better spent on our unanswered questions. –  Matt Эллен Jan 17 at 12:57

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