Pay off [little by little]?

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High on grammar

Senior Member
Farsi
Hell everyone:

If “pay off” means to make the last payment on a loan, to pay in full; then it won't make sense to say:

[ he paid off his debt little by little]

OR

He paid off the money he owed me little by little.

It should be:
He paid back the money he owed me little by little.


Am I right?


Thanks
 
Last edited:
  • Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    You appear to have misunderstood "to pay in full".

    "He paid off his debt little by little" is perfectly acceptable. It means he has paid all that he owes in several small payments, not one single payment.
     

    High on grammar

    Senior Member
    Farsi
    You appear to have misunderstood "to pay in full".

    "He paid off his debt little by little" is perfectly acceptable. It means he has paid all that he owes in several small payments, not one single payment.
    Can I say " he paid off the money he owed me little by little''?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A bank loan, credit agreement, mortgage or whatever is typically repaid in instalments over a fixed period of time. To “pay off” such a debt does mean to settle it in full, but the term can refer either to making the final payment that clears the debt or to the entire repayment process.

    So, as Andygc has already said, it’s perfectly legitimate to talk of paying off a debt little by little, in stages, etc. (In fact, only a short-term or bridging loan is likely to be paid back all at once.)

    Having said all that, I do think “paid back” sounds more idiomatic than “paid off” in your particular example, but only because you seem to be talking about a private arrangement with someone you know.
     

    High on grammar

    Senior Member
    Farsi
    A bank loan, credit agreement, mortgage or whatever is typically repaid in instalments over a fixed period of time. To “pay off” such a debt does mean to settle it in full, but the term can refer either to making the final payment that clears the debt or to the entire repayment process.

    So, as Andygc has already said, it’s perfectly legitimate to talk of paying off a debt little by little, in stages, etc. (In fact, only a short-term or bridging loan is likely to be paid back all at once.)

    Having said all that, I do think “paid back” sounds more idiomatic than “paid off” in your particular example, but only because you seem to be talking about a private arrangement with someone you know.
    Thanks
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I don't think "little by little" would be idiomatic in American English.

    I think you would likely hear, "He paid off the debt a little at a time." (Conversational)

    He paid off his debt incrementally over time.
    (More formal)

    He paid off his debt in 24 payments over two years.
    (More information, and not much more writing.)
     

    High on grammar

    Senior Member
    Farsi
    I don't think "little by little" would be idiomatic in American English.

    I think you would likely hear, "He paid off the debt a little at a time." (Conversational)

    He paid off his debt incrementally over time.
    (More formal)

    He paid off his debt in 24 payments over two years.
    (More information, and not much more writing.)
    I think you are right. I just did a search on “his debt a little at a time” on Googlebooks and the first three examples I got were [ paid off his debt a little at a time] , but when I did the same thing for [paid off his debt little by little] I got zero results.

    Thanks
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes. In BE, too, it would be unusual to use “little by little” in relation to repaying any kind of debt in instalments. But the crux of the question, of course, was whether “paying off” a loan only means making a final payment.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Yes. In BE, too, it would be unusual to use “little by little” in relation to repaying any kind of debt in instalments. But the crux of the question, of course, was whether “paying off” a loan only means making a final payment.
    In the USA "paying off" is a process, not a single event.

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