I think I have always used these two words interchangeably without noticing until my professor was saying how some students misspelled the word and he was amazed.

Can someone tell me when I should use paid over payed?

I searched for a similar question and got even more confused with this title: you paid for a persons drink and expect to be payed back.

  • 10
    There is no *payed.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 2:56
  • 1
    Yes, that’s right.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 3:27
  • 4
    Upward and Davidson 2011 argue that "in medial positions ModE generally prefers AI, EI, OI (paid, vein, join) to AY, etc., though exceptions are found (e.g. oyster)" and "since Middle English treated I and Y as interchangeable, alternation occurs between AI and AY, which left a legacy in Modern English of AY typically used word-finally (or syllable-finally), but often replaced by AI before suffixes; hence the variation between day/daily, gay/gaiety, mayhem/maim, lay/laid, pay/paid." wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1444342975.html
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 4:03
  • 1
    @Phil: My mistake! Apparently over a year ago I edited that question to correct the misspelling of "paid" in the text, but I didn't notice it was also in the title. As tchrist says, you can safely assume there is no payed for all practical purposes. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 4:46
  • 2
    Agreed with the previous posts that "paid" is financial and "payed" refers to ropes. However, though it may have originated from the nautical community, "payed" is often used by landlubbers as well: "I began to cry as the repo man payed out his winch rope in the direction of my Chevy."
    – user57306
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 17:42

6 Answers 6


Paid or payed is the past tense of pay depending on the sense of pay. The first sense is the usual one of giving someone money while the second sense is to seal (the deck or seams of a wooden ship) with pitch or tar to prevent leakage.

  • 14
    Per the OED, the only two senses that allow payed are: “13. Naut. a. (trans.) To let out (a rope or chain) by slackening it, to allow or cause to run out. (Also in reference to something let out by the rope.) Now always with out or away. Also transf. 14. Naut. a. (trans.) To cause (a ship) to fall to leeward, or fall away from the wind. Now always with off.” Therefore I feel perfectly comfortable saying that “there is no *payed,” since those simply will not arise.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 3:03
  • 9
    @tchrist- Fishermen use it quite frequently. books.google.com/…
    – Jim
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 4:50
  • 5
    A subtle distinction, but there may be rare instances where "payed" could be used in a financial sense, but only where it is specifically intended to be a metaphorical reference to the nautical sense. E.g. "The large award was payed out in small increments over a decade." You're implying what is done with ropes in a nautical sense, but still talking about money. Still, "paid" works just as well here and is far more common. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 15:10
  • 2
    The OED online has plenty of examples of 'payed' being used for money, but they're all really old.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 22:55

You should almost always use paid.

If you’re talking about money, or anything else that’s literally or figuratively acting like a transaction, then it’s paid: “Jane paid me ten dollars”, or “John played a practical joke on me, but I paid him back with a worse one!”

It’s only if you’re sailing, and dealing with ropes, that payed can be the correct form — “The skipper payed out the rope”, and similar.

  • 10
    If if wasn't for that nautical term, a good spell-checker would help thwart this error.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 9:46
  • 2
    This option gives the most readily remembered guidance and is not over-restrictive in identifying the nautical uses of payed, so I find it preferable to the others. Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 20:54
  • 2
    Interesting, thanks! "paying out rope" means "to slacken (as a rope) and allow to run out", e.g. "He payed out the rope and let it dangle from the side of the dock." Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 17:53

If it's one of many tide payments to pay something (a complete amount) out, it makes sense to me to use payed but I can see how that would (without understanding of both different words) cause some conflict. It seems appropriate to use paid (and correct) if it's one single payment and payed if it's a link or chain of payments.

  • And have now payed my next contribution-to prove the matter at hand
    – eva
    Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 1:52

I'm coming at this from finance, not linguistics.

If you buy (partial) ownership when you invest (so buying stock instead of making a loan), you give over the right to distribute the returns made from your investment to the manager of the investment. They do not have to release those returns back to you in full or on a regular basis.

So, since this is their discretion, I think "dividends are payed out" not "dividends are paid out".

Here's another thought, based on this and other sites. There seem to be three appropriate uses of payed: 1) I payed out rope. 2) I payed out caulk. 3) I payed a visit [got this from another site].

I think the common thread there is that each involves some sort of attachment to something larger: 1) I payed out (some) rope (from a larger spool). 2) I payed out (some) caulk (from a larger tube). 3) I payed (some time to make) a visit (from my larger pool of free time).

If I'm correct, then my above answer that the correct form is "payed out dividends" because dividends come from a larger pool of profits earned from the investment.

  • 1
    Can you find a reference to substantiate that? See my comment in response to JNET's answer?
    – TrevorD
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 12:24

What about the passive voice? In all the instances from the examples good people have submitted before me, there were references to the word "payed" that felt like the passive... to have something done to you by someone/something ELSE.

from Mr. Tufte: "Dividends ARE PAYED out"; Correct because of the passive voice, however #3) is NOT passive voice, so it must be PAID. "I" is the subject doing the "paying", and therefore active voice.

"Was payed out", the example from Mr. Hoffman would be correct because of the passive voice. Am I wrong? Let me know!

  • 1
    This is entirely incorrect. The perfect aspect and the passive voice both use the same form of the head verb: the past participle. There is no difference in the participle between these two constructions, only in the auxiliaries used with the participles. Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 1:04

This may not be right, but my understanding was that payed was the past tense of pay and paid was the past participle of pay. Therefore as I understood:

I payed $100 on my account, so it should be all paid up.

"Is it paid?" "Yes. I payed it all."

  • This is certainly not the normal understanding (see the accepted answer), and not really helpful unless you have something to back it up. Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 22:04
  • Yes. True indeed.
    – Tom Haws
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 22:34

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