Etymology Grammar Usage

Pay pals: paid vs. payed

Q: Can the word “payed” be used as a legitimate alternative to “paid”—that is, as the past tense of “pay”?

A: In most cases, the past tense and past participle of “pay” is “paid.” (The past participle is the form used with “have” or “had.”)

For example: “I pay every month” (present) … “I paid last month” (past) … “For years, I have paid regularly” (present perfect).

The two standard dictionaries we use the most—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.)—agree on this.

There’s only one common sense in which either “payed” or “paid” can be used, according to the lexicographers at American Heritage and Merriam-Webster’s.

This is when the verb “pay” means to slacken something like a line or rope, allowing it to run out a little at a time. Example: “He payed out the rope to give it some slack.”

English borrowed the verb “pay” in the 13th century from an Anglo-Norman word spelled various ways, including paier, paer, and paaer, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The word ultimately comes from the classical Latin pacare, meaning to appease, pacify, reduce to peace.

In a note on the history of the word, American Heritage says: “Given the unpeaceful feelings one often has in paying bills or income taxes, it is difficult to believe that the word pay ultimately derives from the Latin word pax, ‘peace.’ ”

“However, it is not the peace of the one who pays that is involved in this development of meaning,” AH adds. “From pax, meaning ‘peace’ and also ‘a settlement of hostilities,’ was derived the word pacare, ‘to impose a settlement on peoples or territories.’ ”

In post-classical Latin, according to the dictionary, pacare took on the sense of to appease, and paiier, the Old French word that evolved from it, came to mean to pacify or satisfy a creditor.

This sense of the word, AH notes, “came into Middle English along with the word paien (first recorded around the beginning of the 13th century), the ancestor of our word pay.

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