Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Recently, when I was marking a lot of students essays about the same topic regarding money, I noticed that similar grammatical and collocation errors were being made with these 3 verbs.

It’s confusing, because “pay” and “spend” are very close in meaning, and all three verbs are used in similar contexts.

As these are common words to use, you shouldn’t be making mistakes with them in your speaking and writing.


We pay money for something when hand over cash or a credit card in exchange for a product or service.

I paid 5 bucks for these shoes.

We spend money, also, in exchange for a product or service, but the preposition can be different.

I spent 5 bucks for/on these shoes.

However, they are also used in a general sense.

I don’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes. 

I don’t like to pay a lot of money for clothes.

Save is the opposite. We save money when we keep it, and do not spend it.

I save money by cooking my own meals at home.


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You cannot use “pay” with time.

We use the phrase spend time to describe the action of using minutes or hours for a purpose.

I spend a lot of time reading.

We save time by doing something quickly.

I can save 10 minutes in the morning if I walk instead of taking the bus.


We pay attention when we focus on something, like an exam.

It’s tough to pay attention if the lecture is boring.

You cannot use “spend” with attention.

You cannot use “save” with attention.

Do you have any questions about vocabulary for IELTS Speaking and Writing?

Ask us in the comments section below!


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