Pay one’s dues

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Pay one’s dues is an idiom that has undergone an interesting evolution. We will examine the meaning of the idiom pay one’s dues, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To pay one’s dues may mean to discharge a moral debt. It also means to work hard in ways that are unpleasant or to struggle in order to learn one’s craft or to earn the right to advance. When someone pays his dues, he suffers in the present in order to reap the benefits, later. The expression pay ones dues may be used literally to mean pay a fee to belong to a club or organization; it first came into use as an idiom in the 1600s to refer to a physical or moral debt. In the mid-1900s, the expression pay one’s dues came into use in American English to mean to endure unpleasant work or circumstances in order to learn one’s craft or earn the right to advance. Related phrases are pays one’s dues, paid one’s dues, paying one’s dues.


The one-time running back proved himself to be a quick study at linebacker, and a willing participant to pay his dues. (Sports Illustrated)

Kennedy, who was first elected to Congress in 2012, has built a career honoring Democratic leadership and making sure to pay his dues instead of leveraging his famous last name to head up influential committees. (Boston Herald)

Like the other two men, Josh has paid his dues on the rodeo circuit, so it wasn’t as though he was afraid of getting bucked off. (The Pueblo Chieftan)