I found some definitions of "shell out" as follows:

Can I define shell out as "to pay an excessive amount of money unwillingly or angrily"?

  • 1
    I think your problem here is misunderstanding of the word unwillingly. In English, it means forced, or against your will; a direct language calque of the word to some other languages carries the meaning of reluctantly. Yes, you shell out money reluctantly.
    – SF.
    Oct 31, 2013 at 23:32

2 Answers 2


I would use the adverb reluctantly, not unwillingly. In other words, you had to pay a little more than you had hoped to pay, but shelled out doesn't always imply getting ripped off:

Ted: How much did you pay for those tickets?
Ed: I had to shell out more than $100 each.
Ted: Wow, that's expensive.

If I overheard this conversation, I'd assume Ed was hoping to pay somewhere between $50 and $80 each, but he had to go a little higher than he wanted. He's still glad he got the tickets, though.

The phrase shelled out doesn't imply highway robbery – but perhaps it does suggest digging a little deeper into the wallet than one had initially hoped. I might use shelled out after a momentary twinge of "sticker shock."


No, shell out doesn't imply any angriness or unwillingness. If you need to convoy that meaning, you need to make it explicit in the rest of the sentence. I could pay something more than I want to pay it, but I could really need it, and I am willing to pay it even if I pay it more than I would have expected.

  • Ok,I see, thank you. But why is there "especially if unexpected or having to pay more than one thinks is a fair price" in the dictionary definition?
    – dennylv
    Oct 31, 2013 at 7:41
  • 3
    +1. Although I see "usually unwillingly" in the definition in CALD, I agree with this answer. It's too easy to find examples where there's no "unwillingness": "Kat was willing to shell out for new clothes." (COCA) "Having agreed to shell out, Barclaycard chief executive Bob Potts asked a favour of Scudamore." (Collins) "Do you think we should shell out for the extra options package?" (Wiktionary) "Consumers are willing to shell out money to own a brand" (vocabulary.com) And so on.
    – user230
    Oct 31, 2013 at 8:36
  • 1
    @dennylv: That definition only says especially - there's nothing to say you can't use the expression in respect routine or cheap/fairly-priced expenditure. Also note that the first attribute mentionned is unexpected. It's quite normal to say things like I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get it for cheap, so I shelled out a few bucks and got a couple more games. Oct 31, 2013 at 19:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .