I have a question about the usage of "pay":

  1. He paid the agent $100.
  2. He paid $100 to the agent.

Is the second pattern nonstandard? I don't seem to be able to find it in dictionaries.

  • 2
    The second pattern is totally standard, and quite common. Also see this question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/44401/…
    – Adam
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 6:55
  • 3
    Please stop acting as though anything not found in a dictionary is "nonstandard". Dictionaries do not provide samples of every possible usage of a word or phrase.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 10:18
  • @J.R. I'm afraid old bean that that is the fault of commenters and Mods who keep telling everyone to look stuff up in dictionaries, even when that is blatantly inappropriate :( Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 10:41
  • 2
    @Araucaria I guess we need a canonical post, maybe titled "How to use dictionaries (the right way)", on our site. :) Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 10:53

3 Answers 3


As others have said, both are standard. For when to use which, I would suggest that in both sentences mild emphasis is placed on the last part—so in

He paid the agent $100.

one could read it to be emphasizing the amount of money paid, while

He paid $100 to the agent.

could be understood to emphasize that it's to the agent that the money was paid.

  • Quite right! I't good to see an answer that explains that the END of the sentence has the emphasis and not the beginning! :-) Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 11:23
  • 2
    +1 for the mention of theme and rheme (0: Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 11:50
  • Do you think that the indirect object pattern for "pay" ( he paid the agent $100 ) is more common than the direct object pattern ( he paid $100 to the agent )?
    – meatie
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 1:01
  • @meatie: yes, I do.
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 5:42
  1. He paid the agent $100.
  2. He paid $100 to the agent.

This is a normal pattern for verbs like

  • give, lend, offer, pass, pay, post, read, sell, send, show, promise, tell

These verbs all take two Objects. One Object is the thing that is being given. The other Object is the person or thing who receives it. The thing that is given is called the DIRECT OBJECT. The person receiving it is the INDIRECT OBJECT. The normal phrase order in English is to put the Indirect Object first, and the Direct Object second:

  • I posted my mum a letter.
  • I showed my teacher my essay.
  • They sold me an elephant.

However sometimes we want to move the Indirect Object to the end of the sentence. When we do this we need to put the Direct Object first. With verbs like GIVE, we need to use the preposition to before the Indirect Object when it comes second:

  • I posted a letter to my mum.
  • I showed my essay to my teacher.
  • They sold an elephant to me.

Some verbs that take Indirect Objects use the preposition for when the Direct Object comes first. They don't use the preposition to. Here are some of the verbs that take for:

  • book, buy, get, cook, keep bring, make, pour, save, find,

Here are some example sentences with the Indirect Object first:

  • I bought my mum some flowers.
  • I kept you a copy.
  • They poured me a glass of wine.

Here are some examples with the Direct Object first:

  • I bought some flowers for my mum.
  • I kept a copy for you.
  • They poured a glass of wine for me.

Hope this is helpful!

[Note When the Indirect Object comes second, it is not really an object of the verb any more. Instead it is part of a Preposition Phrase. It is the Preposition Phrase that is the complement of the verb]

Ref: I got my list of verbs from this British Council website

  • In dictionaries definitely have the "give something to somebody" === "give somebody something" equivalence. But the "pay money to somebody" === "pay somebody money" equivalence could not be found.
    – meatie
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:23
  • @meatie Yes. If you're lucky you might get some good grammar advice from a dictionary, but more often not. You're right to ask the question here:) Dictionaries are NOT generally the right places to look for grammar info ... Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to track down the grammar info you need - so a good teacher, or other friends or colleagues are often a better place to start if you can't find what you need in a grammar book. Which, I think, is why this site exists! :-) Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:28
  • Do you think that the indirect object pattern for "pay" is more common than the direct object pattern?
    – meatie
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:57
  • @meatie If you mean IO first, DO second, then yes. This is the standard pattern and is much, much more common. But as Mathieu says below, what you use depends on what you're trying to emphasise :) Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:59

Both are same but as I said in your other question (quite similar?), it depends whether you want to use the verb 'pay' as a transitive or intransitive.

He paid the agent .... (verb taking direct object)
He paid ....to the agent... (verb not taking direct object)

As we see, the verb 'pay' is both -transitive and intransitive.

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