What is the difference between "auszahlen" and "zahlen"?

The Duden dictionary defines "auszahlen" as:

jemandem einen ihm zustehenden Geldbetrag zahlen, aushändigen (pay someone a sum of money entitled/owned to him/her)

The same dictionary defines "zahlen" as:

einen Geldbetrag als Gegenleistung oder anderes geben, bezahlen (to give a sum of money in exchange of something, pay)

I can't perceive the exact difference between both definitions. Here is an example for discussion:

An wen muss ich das Geld (aus)zahlen?

  • What's unclear about the two definitions?
    – Olafant
    Jul 23 '20 at 10:05
  • @Olafant "to give money to someone entitled to it" seems a synonym of "to pay" to me, given that I can only pay something to a person if he/she or the company where he/she works is entitled to it. Ex: pay someone who I own money, a cashier ( I bought products at the supermarket and the supermarket is entitled to get money for them), a mechanic (the mechanic fixed my car and is entitled to get money from it), a doctor, an employee, etc. "to give money in exchange for something" is a synonym of "to pay". In short, both definitions seem synonyms of "to pay", so I see no difference between them. Jul 23 '20 at 11:36

In your example both are really interchangeable. But usually they mean totally different things.

Zahlen is used to express that you give money for something you get:

You pay for some goods, you pay for services, you pay for going to cinema...

Auszahlen means that you get money because you have a right to get that money. On the other side you can be the one who gives the money to someone who e.g. earned it. It is most commonly used in combination with salaries, but it can also be used when you e.g. paid for something for your company and then get the money back.


  • You get a credit and go to the pay desk to get the money.

  • You have invited a customer for a lunch and go to your administration and they give you the money back.

  • Or classically: At the end of the month you go to the pay office to get your pay check.

  • The cashier who gives the money to


Lassen Sie Sich das Geld an der Kasse auszahlen...
Ich zahle Ihnen das Geld an der Kasse aus
Das Gehalt wird am Ende des Monats ausgezahlt

  • It'd be nice if you could match the example situations with the German sentences (by putting each example together with its corresponding situation or by using numbers). Also, I assume the first example situation is in a bank, so it'd be nice to make it explicit. Jul 23 '20 at 12:17

Auszahlen (DWDS) refers to something like wage/salary/heritage.

Zahlen (DWDS) on the other hand is just the generic word to change a service/object for money/instrument of payment.

From the juristical point of view in any case with a payment there is some kind of debt/obligation/trade involved. You go shopping and you have to pay - zahlen - for the groceries you get.

A bit more interchangeably with "auszahlen" is bezahlen(DWDS). That verb is used to say you pay for xy. That means, while you can pay the wage = "den Lohn auszahlen" as well as you can pay your workers = "die Angestellten bezahlen".

Examples with auszahlen where zahlen would be strange:

  • Das Erbe auszahlen.
  • Die Dividende auszahlen.

Examples with zahlen where auszahlen would be strange:

  • Ich zahle meine Schulden. (bezahlen would fit as well)
  • Ich zahle meinen Einkauf. (bezahlen would be better)

zahlen = to pay.(commonly used, can often used interchangeably, for example:

Jemandem seinen Lohn zahlen


Jemandem seinen Lohn` auszahlen

but the latter is more correct

auszahlen =

  1. pay someone who you still loan money( for his work, service, goods etc)
  2. I withdraw money= Ich lasse mir Geld auszahlen ( from the bank, fonds or anything like that... https://context.reverso.net/%C3%BCbersetzung/deutsch-englisch/Ich+lasse+mich+auszahlen)

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