Buy and Pay

    09 April 2021

    This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a request from a reader in Guinea. Here is the request:


    Dear VOA, I'm Adama from Enta in Guinea. I would like to know the difference between "buy" and "pay." Thanks for your service!

    -Adama, Guinea


    Hello Adama, we are happy to be of service.

    I'm also glad that you asked about "buy" and "pay." As a native English speaker, I had never thought about the difference. Because of your question, I learned something new!

    Buy vs. pay

    Here is what I learned: We can use "buy" or "pay" to talk about using money, but each word has a different focus. The verb "buy" means to get something by paying for it. The verb "pay" means to give money in exchange for goods or services.

    Listen to these examples and think about the difference between the two words:

    I just bought a used motorbike.
    I paid $900 for the motorbike.

    The musician bought a Mexican guitar.
    She paid for the guitar with her credit card.

    Is he going to buy us lunch?
    Is he going to pay our bill?

    Did you catch the difference? The verb "buy" puts the focus on the thing you are purchasing. The verb "pay" brings attention to the money that is being exchanged. "Pay" can also bring attention to the process. For example, the musician used a credit card to purchase the guitar.

    Pay for vs. pay

    You may have also noticed that the preposition "for" can appear after the verb "pay." We say "pay for" to talk about a thing or event we give money for and receive at the same time.

    But when we use "pay" (without "for"), we are talking about the person or thing we are giving money to. You can pay a person, for example. Or you can pay a bill for goods or services that you already received.

    And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

    I'm Alice Bryant.

    Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    glad –adj. feeling pleasure, joy or happiness

    focus –n. a main purpose or interest

    guitar –n. a musical instrument usually with six strings that is held against the body and played with the fingers or with a pick

    bill –n. a document that states how much you owe for a good or service