Leo shows that both bezahlen and zahlen are translated as "to pay". I noticed that people sometimes use the one, and sometimes the other.

So, when to use bezahlen and when zahlen?

5 Answers 5


In many cases, zahlen and bezahlen mean the same and may be used interchangeably:

Sie haben die Miete noch nicht gezahlt/bezahlt.
Das Museum hat zwei Millionen für das Bild gezahlt/bezahlt.

Sometimes, there is a difference in register; otherwise, it is often a matter of personal taste when to use which. However, there are some cases where a more-or-less clear difference exists.

  1. You can’t use (at least not in standard language) zahlen with a person as the direct object:

    Sie macht lieber alles selbst, statt einen Handwerker zu bezahlen.
    Ich bezahle dich nicht dafür, daß du Löcher in die Luft guckst!

    (Exception: If the person is not the recipient of the payment, but the item that is being paid for, i.e. a slave.)

  2. Bezahlen may be used to indicate completion:

    Ist die Waschmaschine bezahlt? – Nein, er hat erst einmal nur hundert Euro gezahlt/bezahlt und zahlt/bezahlt nächste Woche den Rest.

  3. On the other hand, zahlen is more general:

    Firma X? Ja, die zahlen gut.

    (Although bezahlen isn’t impossible here.) It may also be preferred when talking about who’ll pay in the end:

    Dafür zahlt doch wieder die Allgemeinheit.
    Greift zu! Ich zahle. (= My treat.)

  • 2
    If I understand correctly, I can always use bezahlen, and it won't be a mistake? Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 6:29
  • 2
    I guess so, yes. There are some fixed phrases, however: Da zahlt man sich dumm und dusselig. But you’ll have to learn those anyway (if you want to use them).
    – chirlu
    Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 7:26
  • But even then "bezahlen" would not be wrong. "Da bezahlt man sich dumm und dusselig" is also ok. Same with "Zahlen/Bezahlen bitte!". Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 11:02
  • The Dictionary of German Synonyms says that, in the case that you are paying to a person, you can either use "bezahlen" with accusative, as mentioned in this answer, OR use "zahlen" with dative for the person and accusative for what is being paid. eg "Ich habe ihm drei Euro dafür gezahlt". It also says that only "bezahlen" may be used with abstract meaning (eg "pay for your sins") Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 10:34
  • "i.e. a slave" should be "e.g., a slave", right? Commented May 28, 2023 at 9:31

"Zahlen" means "to pay," that is using currency or money to pay for something, and "bezahlen" means "to pay up," that is to pay money to someone.

Ich zahle die Miete. I pay the rent.

Ich bezahle den Vermieter. I pay up the landlord.

You can also say, ich bezahle die Miete, I pay up the rent, that is, I pay money to satisfy the rent.

But you can't say, ich zahle den Vermieter. You need to use bezahle.

  • Very good, I was missing that last distinction in the previous answers! Though I do believe you are correct, I'm not sure whether the difference is just my opinion or etymologically provable. Can you provide linguistic evidence on that?
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 5:27
  • same when it's about the taxi ride: "Wer bezahlt den Taxifahrer?" "Ich zahle das Taxi", both wouldn't work the other way round.
    – Tommylee2k
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:45

As far as I know, the prefix be- is used on verbs that are born as intransitive to make them transitive. So, in the case of zahlen, you would say:

Ich zahle mit meiner Kreditkarte;


Ich bezahle den Verkäufer.

So bezahlen has to be used when you need an object.

EDIT: This rule does not apply to zahlen. See comments below.

  • 6
    It doesn’t apply here, though. Zahlen and bezahlen both can be transitive and intransitive verbs.
    – chirlu
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 20:44
  • So, according to your answer, my second sentence could not use zahlen in place of bezahlen. While for the first I guess both of them would be correct? Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 20:47
  • 3
    Yes, that’s right. Bezahlen can still be transitive when the object is not a person, as in die Rechnung bezahlen.
    – chirlu
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 20:49
  • I also think you hit the nail on the head when you say you can always use bezahlen but you can't zahlen if the object is a person.
    – äüö
    Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 7:04

That is a tough one, I find me using it interchangeably. However there seems to be a somewhat directed preference:

I would state it as bezahlen expresses the intent and the process of paying. Whilst zahlen only states the intent.

"Wie möchten Sie zahlen?" / "How would you like to pay?"

"Ich bezahle bar." / "I'll pay cash."

The first sentence inquires the intent. The second sentence signals the intent and the payment immediately after.


Wiktionary sheds some light on it:

In many circumstances, zahlen and bezahlen are more or less interchangeable. However, there are some cases where only one choice can be used. When the purpose of the payment is mentioned, for example reparations, hush money, tribute, etc., then zahlen is used. When the person being paid, or the items or services that are being paid for, are mentioned, then bezahlen is used.

  • Die Aktien zahlten eine Dividende von 7%. ― The stocks paid a dividend of 7%.
  • Wer bezahlt die Reparaturen? ― Who pays for the repairs?
  • Oftmals werden die Lehrer nicht genug bezahlt. ― Often the teachers aren't paid enough.

From this one can conclude that the difference is not in the meaning of the words themselves. But rather the difference is in the role of the object. If the object describes what the payer gets in exchange for the payment, then bezahlen should be used. If the object describes the payment itself (dividend, taxes, etc), then use zahlen.

  • Before answering an old question having an accepted answer (look for green ✓) as well as other answers ensure your answer adds something new or is otherwise helpful in relation to them. Here is a guide on How to Answer. Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 10:22

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