The government should pay (to) his employees for not letting them leave the country.

Should we use "to" after "pay" or not? Does the verb "pay" require the preposition "to" after itself?

1 Answer 1


The word "to" is generally used after the verb "pay" to indicate the purpose of the payment, not the recipient.

  • I pay him to mow my lawn.
  • John pays to park his car in a protected space.

"To" can be used to indicate the recipient in constructions such as:

  • Jane will pay $500 to Fred.
  • In a case of garnishment, the employer pays part of the salary to the creditor.

But "to" is not needed or wanted in the example sentence. It should be:

The government should pay its employees for not letting them leave the country.

(Since "The government" is not an individual person, use "its", not "his". If the sentence was about an individual of unknown gender, one could write "his or her" or "their". Formerly "his" was used for individuals of unknown gender, but this is considered improper, even offensive, by many today.)

When "pay to" specified a recipient, there will normally be an indication of what is being paid. Either an amount ("pay $500 to Fred") or a description "The tenant will pay the rent to the landlord by the 3rd of the month." This will often be between "pay" and "to", but need not be, particularly in a formal legal context:

  • The debtor will pay to the creditor the sum of $500 as additional interest in any month in which the principal sum is not paid on time.
  • The purchaser will pay to the seller the full balance of the purchase price in case of default.

But in the example in the question, no amount or description of what is to be paid is included, so "to" would not be used to indicate a recipient. The purpose of the payment is already indicted with "for", so "to" would not also be used for that.

Note also that in many cases where "pay X to someone" is normal, the sentence can be recast as "pay someone X". For example:

  • Jane will pay Fred $500.
  • In a case of garnishment, the employer pays the creditor part of the salary.
  • Thanks for the understandable answer
    – Kristina
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 16:05

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