I had an English test at my school and there was an English composition question. And the answer was "Kate doesn't earn as much as her husband", but I answered as "Kate isn't paid as much as her husband".Though I think it's correct, my teacher said "earn" is different from "be paid". What do you think? Are they the same or different? Could you explain how.

  • 2
    I could pay you $1,000 for asking this question here, but would you have earned it?
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 13, 2016 at 12:34
  • There are subtle differences. Generally "paid" is considered to refer to the gross amount, while "earned" is sometimes used to refer to the after-taxes, after-deductions amount. But they basically mean the same.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 13, 2016 at 12:41
  • 3
    It would help, I think, to know what the test question was. Dec 13, 2016 at 12:45
  • 4
    I respectfully disagree with @HotLicks: the difference is that to earn a sum of money is to deserve it, morally, as just compensation for one's labor, while to be paid it is simply to receive it.
    – Brian Donovan
    Dec 13, 2016 at 13:10
  • 1
    @BrianDonovan - There are many possible interpretations, depending on context.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 13, 2016 at 13:17

3 Answers 3


I think that the teacher may have been nitpicking. It is a colloquial usage. Many people use earn as paid in everyday language.

"Kate doesn't earn as much as her husband", but I answered as "Kate isn't paid as much as her husband."

I'd be interested in what the teacher said was the correct answer. If you are an English speaking college level student, I agree with the teacher. If you are learning English or are in elementary/primary school, I think he or she is being too persnickety.

To earn something means we've put some work into it.


I earned my paycheque by working forty hours week at my job.

I am paid an amount from my trust fund. I did nothing to earn the trust fund money. I was born into a wealthy family.

English is a peculiar language. Many of us commonly use it incorrectly but we are understood perfectly in spite of it.

It would be great to see the actual test question and the 'correct' answer.


In the context of financial compensation, to "earn" and to "be paid" are essentially synonymous. This is particularly true when comparing wages or salaries. There can be subtle differences in meaning between the two, but in general, they are synonymous.

For example, if I am asked what salary I make, I could reply "I earn $100,000 per year." This is synonymous with "I am paid $100,000 per year." This does not mean that the terms "earn" and "paid" are synonymous - indeed they are not. However, the answer you gave is technically correct, assuming that the question was about Kate and her husband's relative wages.

If, however, I am discussing my employer shorting me on my paycheck (a very special context indeed), I might say "I earned $100 last pay period, but I was only paid $80." Really, though, to use "earn" here muddles things up a bit. It would be better to say "I was supposed to be paid $100 last pay period, but I was only paid $80."

If the question was about how much interest Kate earns on a loan as compared to her husband, then the answer "Kate isn't paid as much as her husband." would no longer be accurate, because in the context of investments, it is possible to earn interest without taking a payment. This context seems unlikely in your case, though.


Earn would refer to a activity over time, paid an instance of financial transaction.

Over a week, I earn 100. At the end of the week I am paid 100 for the work I did.

In reference to your teacher, the context would refer to a continuous process, rather than one off instance, but a little nick picky imho.

Paid can also refer to transfer of money for something. I was paid 100 for my old bike.

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