How is the term lump sum properly used?

Do I work for a lump sum or on a lump sum? Can I work lump sum based, or can I offer a lump sum price?


You work for a lump sum, rather than on it. It sounds a little odd, because "lump sum" normally refers to the manner in which you are paid (in one "lump" rather than in several separate payments) rather than the amount itself.

When you turn the phrase around, it is much less common to use "lump sum" for the arrangement. Instead we'd say:

I offer a fixed price contract.

I think this is the meaning you are after: agreeing to work for a particular price, regardless of how long it takes. The payment may be in a single lump sum or a number of instalments, but that's a separate matter.

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I've never heard it used in this way. It usually means there is a choice between taking money as a single amount or a series of installments.

Life insurance can be paid as a lump sum or an annuity.

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    I don't think I've ever heard of anyone working for a lump sum either. It normally means payment is made in full on one occasion, as opposed to instalments. I would understand if my builder offered to work for a lump sum. But I might check to see if I could find a more carefully-spoken builder before we got on to more complicated concepts where I might not understand him. – FumbleFingers Apr 7 '11 at 0:48
  • I completely agree. Many companies will pay out a lump sum to the survivors to (help) pay off a mortgage and then pay survivor's pension. Also when settling a contract dispute, the owed amount could be paid out as a lump sum (and whoever opted in, was obliged never to dispute again) – mplungjan Jul 28 '12 at 5:23

There is a set phrase in the British construction industry of working on the lump

What it meant was casual labour, often failing to pay income tax or national insurance as employers and employees should, with various attempts by tax officials to close it down. It was formally described as "Labour-Only Sub-Contracting" meaning that in theory the individuals were self-employed, though in practice they were picked up at street corners as casual labourers, or recruited though agencies. The Lump is a phrase suggested by lump-sum contracting, though it is in fact closer to piece-rates for employees, and therefore opposed by the trades unions. The practice and debate has run for over a century.

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I work for a lump sum.

I work on a lump-sum basis.

My fees are based on a lump sum.

I offer a lump-sum contract.

"Offer a lump-sum price" might be a bit confusing since you're offering to work for a price, not to pay the price yourself.

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