The Past of “Pay” is “Paid”

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader expresses dismay at lapses in the spelling of the past form of the verb pay:

An article in the Burlington (VT) Free Press today had this heading:  Isle La Motte to vote on spending repayed funds.

[W]hen did repayed become an acceptable word? 

The answer, of course, is that it hasn’t.

Note: a Free Press reader pointed out the misspelling on the paper’s site:

“repayed” ?? Who buyed your English classes?

and the misspelled word was promptly corrected.

Our DWT reader offers another, more unfortunate example:

My friend’s son received a report card from his teacher that read:  Tate payed attention in class. 

Language changes and irregular verbs morph into regular verbs with -ed endings, but some words are in such frequent use that the older forms endure. It’s difficult to understand how someone educated as a teacher or a journalist could fail to master such a basic irregular spelling as paid.

The OED does include the spelling “payed” as a form used “chiefly in the nautical sense”:

pay: v. To smear or cover (a wooden surface or join, esp. the seams of a ship) with pitch, tar, or other substance, so as to make watertight or resistant to damage. Also (occas.) with over.

Merriam-Webster lists “payed” as a past form used for another nautical expression:

pay: to slacken (as a rope) and allow to run out

For the everyday sense of pay as remuneration, the past tense is paid.

Two other common verbs ending in -ay that also change the y to i in the past are say and lay:

say/said/have said
lay/laid/have laid

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11 Responses to “The Past of “Pay” is “Paid””

  • Mike Anderson

    I have been reading, writing and speaking for years of course. I am often suprised by the misuse of many words in their everyday use. But more than anything, I am shocked at how often professionals misuse and misspell words in their articles. The incorrect usage of paid, run and ran, lay and laid, there and their and so on is somewhat mind-boggling.

    I am happy to see that I am not the only one who has noticed it.

    Nice post.


  • Tony Hearn

    Interestingly, by the by, here in Bristol (England) ‘laid’ is pronounced ‘led’ (like Standard ‘sed’), while’ said’ is often pronounced ‘sayed’!

  • Maeve

    That is interesting. Here it’s the opposite. However, I have heard a few speakers on the radio make “said” rhyme with “laid.”

  • Rod

    …And I thinked I amed bad at conjugation

  • Emma

    But I also find it interesting how young children often start off using the past tenses accurately (e.g. I ran), then move to “I runned” – as they start to apply the rules of language as they’re learning them. Then realise they’ve got it wrong.

    Perhaps some people never got to that last stage! (Or, for international speakers, have so many irregular verbs to learn that one or two inevitably get missed)

  • Steve

    It seems obvious to me that the ‘mistake’ of repayed for repaid was due to having the “re” prefix. I’m sure the writer would have correctly written paid instead of payed.

    What really amazes me is that the spell checker was turned off, assuming of course the writer was using computer.

    Having said all that, in my view people strict when it comes to spelling, Payed is more logical then paid and it would be much easier for children to learn. We should seek to regularise verbs where they are irregular. Change is inevitable so get a life and embrace variety.

  • mailav

    Thank you so much for this valuable information.

    Very useful indeed.

  • Nunya

    Mr. Anderson, I am often “suprised” by the rate at which people will criticize others for their mistakes while unable to see their own.

  • Mike Anderson

    Ha! And you are correct sir in pointing out my own mistake!!

    Thank you,


  • Rosanna

    @Steve who said that we should seek to regularize verbs where they are irregular.

    Umm– the whole point is that they are IRREGULAR, therefore they are subject to another set of rules. Besides, there are only a few of them– so let’s face it, you’re kinda stupid if you can’t remember them.

    But in case someone else needs a refresher, it’s “drop the Y, add an I.”

    3rd grade English. Seriously.

    What people need to stop doing is saying that somehow it’s okay for our kids not to learn simple grammar. Have you seen teenagers talking online lately? It’s enough to make my eyes cross.

    Ohh– and people are too strict when it comes to spelling? Well, since we need to be more liberal in applying the rules across the boards of education, how about we make 2+2 = 5 if the kid just can’t quite remember.

    Or that the Allies lost World War II? Or that H3O is “close enough” to the chemical compound for water.

    It’s not a matter of “getting a life,” it’s a matter of “having an education.”


  • Emma

    I’m not sure that Rosanna’s comparison between maths & spelling is entirely fair; after all, the world over everyone would agree that 2+2=5. Leaving aside differences in spelling English between US/UK – there are languages that are much more regular (e.g. Spanish) than English is. Students writing in English have to consider both what they want to say & how to spell words. Spanish students have to think about what they want to say, but when it comes to spelling, have far fewer rules to remember.

    There was an interesting report in today’s Guardian (UK national newspaper) about some research looking at Jane Austen’s original manuscripts. She was a terrible speller & not good at punctuation either. But she’s a great author.

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