pay raise / pay rise

Ben Yagoda at some point asked if I'd tackled raise and rise. And I haven't. So here we go.

In AmE one asks one's boss for a (pay) raise. In BrE, one asks for a pay rise (or perhaps one seethes with quiet resentment instead).  These differing expressions are both nouns, of course. The verbs are basically the same. The boss would raise your pay. Your pay would rise. 

Why are they different? (a) Because they came about after AmE and BrE separated, in the 19th century, and (b) because there are two possible verbs to make the noun out of (both of which were already nouns in English anyhow). AmE went with making a noun with the form of the transitive verb (someone raises your pay) and BrE went with making a noun with the form of the intransitive verb (the pay rises). Both of these verbs had been nouns in English since the 16th century--it was only their application to pay that came up in the 19th century.

AmE, unlike BrE, also uses raise as a noun in other financial contexts, such as a raise in the minimum wage or a raise in the federal government's debt ceiling (both found in Mark Davies' Corpus of Contemporary American English [COCA]). This does not mean (as at least one BrE speaker has suggested to me) that the noun rise doesn't exist in AmE. In fact, AmE uses rise as a noun 10 times as much as it uses raise as one (according to COCA). But compare this to BrE, in which the noun rise is 53 times more common than the noun raise, at least in the British National Corpus.

AmE uses the noun rise in non-financial contexts (e.g. a rise in crime) and in financial ones--and BrE would use rise in all these contexts too. What's interesting is to consider is how Americans know when to say raise and when to say rise. So, let's look at some of the financial contexts from COCA:
a raise in (65 hits in COCA)a rise in (711 hits in COCA)
minimum wagehome prices
federal government debt ceilingyour credit card debt
and your water bill
pay, salarydollars per capita income
his allowancerents
Medicare paymentsstray costs

The noun phrases in the table are the first six different things (in the COCA results) that one could have a raise or rise in. I've put pay and salary in the same box just because it was too boring to count them separately, but it was hard work getting up to six different noun phrases for a raise in because most of them were about pay, and were things like they haven't had a raise in 10 years.

The thing to notice about the table is that the raise things are all things that a single authority makes a change in. The government sets the minimum wage, the debt ceiling and Medicare payments (which in context seemed to mean co-payments), and a company, boss, or parent (or someone like that) sets pay, salaries and allowances. So we have the sense of an agent in this action: someone raises your pay, allowance, etc.

In the rise column, we have things that are subject to more influences, and therefore are not raised by any one authority, but seem to rise because of market forces pushing them up.  (The second example, credit card debt and water bill, is about the effects of dating a [orig. AmE] bad boy. I don't think we can see the bad boy as an authority that's raising the water bill.) There was a counterexample in the first page of a rise in results that I must note: a rise in the cap on taxed salary, which is surely decided by a single authority.  While the raising of pay is definitely raise in AmE (British pay rise sounds really weird to us), other kinds of authority-led upturns in cost or earnings are less uniformly raise. So, for instance, COCA has 9 cases of raise in the minimum wage and 2 of rise in the minimum wage (all from US news sources).

As noted above, raise as a noun is not absent from BrE. In both AmE and BrE, one could execute a little raise of the eyebrow. And if you're doing that now, feel free to leave a comment.

In other news:
I'm quoted in a royal-baby-watching story on on British-versus-American names for baby paraphernalia. It took me about a half an hour after receiving the reporter's request to figure out why a US news establishment wanted to talk about British baby-stuff terminology. As it was for their wedding, it seems like there's more media interest in Will & Kate's baby in the US than in their own country. Which only makes me gladder I live in the UK where I can be spared some of that! Still, it's always fun to talk with the press. If you want to read more about baby stuff, here's a link to my 'babies and children'-tagged posts.


  1. I can't help thinking a bad American performer saying "pay raise" as though the Brits might do, it would SOUND like "pie rise"

  2. Do any Americans really say "behind" in preference to "bottom", as the piece claims? I haven't come across this usage in the process of having 2 children in California.

  3. Oh, I think Americans are quite likely to seethe with resentment too, whether they quite realize it or not. I think there is this feeling that asking for a pay raise is the quick way to getting fired/sacked.

  4. @vp: Not really. I mean, 'behind' is used in some contexts, but the main AmE word in my experience is 'bottom'. As opposed to BrE 'bum'.

    The quotes in the piece are fine, but the background research on particular words is not super, unfortunately. This is also not a surprise, given the state of language reporting, unfortunately.

  5. Fascinating as always Lynne.

    Entirely off-topic, I notice you use the phrase "a half an hour". My instinct - entirely unsupported by evidence - would lead me to think that "half an hour" is more common in BrE, and "a half hour" more common in AmE. I also suspect that no-one other than an American who'd spent a long time in Britain - Sussex, for example - would usually say "a half an hour". But I may well be utterly wrong!

  6. @Simon K: I can consider whether I'll mark it in the post, and I can consider writing a blog post about it (I have a feeling I've tweeted about it before--or maybe that was just half pints), but I have a policy against going off-topic in the comments, as they are not searchable on the blog and I hate for new topics to get lost that way.

  7. I've heard 'behind' in the USA, and 'bottom' sounds slightly foreign and cute to my American ears, but far and away the most common term for the buttocks in the US in my experience is 'butt'. I'm really surprised to hear you say otherwise, Lynne! Maybe a regional difference?

  8. I can only think of two contexts in British English where 'raise' is normally used as a verb, both transitive. One is in gambling, where one raises one's stake. One can also 'raise' one's opponent by challenging him/her to increase their stake. The other is in the Bible, where Jesus 'raises' Lazarus from the dead - but he himself 'rises' because that's intransitive.

    Despite your example about the eyebrow, Lynne, I'm not sure I've ever heard 'raise' used as a noun in British English. I'd regard it as much a US marker as 'math' or 'color'.

    It would make sense that if the US uses both 'raise' and 'rise' as nouns, what decides which one you're expected to use, is whether the increase is the consequence of one person's transitive action, or overall intransitive circumstances.

    Incidentally, in the context of wages, pay, salary etc another US usage that sounds very odd to these slightly older English ears, is 'compensation' as a pretentious euphemism for wages. The meaning of 'compensation' I have grown up with is much more specifically 'damages', reimbursement of a loss one has suffered, or a money one has expended on someone else's behalf. The idea that your employer 'compensates' you for having spent your time working on his or her behalf, rather than simply pays you, does sound very near to linguistic misuse.

  9. Re: Compensation. Here in the US, as wages have remained fairly stagnant, Total Compensation has become a selling point for some employers. They lump together salary, health care plan contributions, retirement plan contributions, and sometimes even the cost of specialied clothing or equipment, to make up for average wages. Total Compensation has been shortened by HR (Human
    Resources dept.) to just compensation. Makes it sound l Iike they're reimbursing someone for showing up and doing their job, all from the kindness of the employee's heart.

  10. Remember, we are talking about babies. Seems to me bottom is the common term (in my experience anyway) in the U.S. Though I would agree that "butt" is the most common term for this body part for non-babies, speaking of a baby's butt strikes me as crude.

    The term bottom has at times struck me as odd because there's nothing bottom about it. But, as a term used for a babies bottom, it does make more sense than "behind".

  11. British English can and does use "behind", too, but it never really made sense to me until I read a short story by Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder) in which the narrator, a child, has misbehaved and her mother "struck me from behind". Now, that did make sense!

    I would agree that North America appears far more excited about the royal birth (apparently imminent) than many of us here in the UK, who basically hope all goes well, and would like to know what it's called when it finally arrives (the poor Duchess appears to have been at it all day), but then shut up about it. We cannot raise (see what I did there?) much excitement.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. I replied before I saw that ek had said what I was saying as well. So I've deleted that comment. But that's as much as I'll be drawn on bottoms here. I want to talk about raise/rise!
    My post on bottoms is here:

  14. @Dru: I can only think of two contexts in British English where 'raise' is normally used as a verb, both transitive

    A quick scan of UK news sources shows that one can raise fears, awareness, standards, capital, money, funds, prices, wages, and the risk of something happenning.

  15. Dru, vp,

    I immediately thought of lots more things you can raise. Before I could post my computer froze. Then it happened again. And again. And all the time I thought of more things raisable:

    You can raise an army — well some people can.

    You can raise Cain (a metaphorical extension of raising Lazarus?)

    You can raise a ruckus (the same thing?)

    You can raise the tone of the conversation/ the neighbourhood/ the evening

    You can raise the flag/ the Scarlet Banner high/ the blinds/ the roof / your glass/ your arm/ your eyes and — as Lynne said — an eyebrow.

    You can raise a laugh (whence the title of Ted Ray's radio show Ray's a Laugh)/ a cheer/ a smile/ a tear.

    You can raise your game.

    You can raise a family/ chickens.

    You can raise expectations/ a point of order.

    You can raise the temperature/ the tempo/ your speed (higher numbers — as with stakes).

  16. In both AmE and BrE, one could execute a little raise of the eyebrow.

    One of the OED examples of

    2. a. The action or an act of raising something; uplifting, elevation.

    However, most of the examples — and all the recent examples — involve raise of.

    This reflects the transitivity of the corresponding verbs

    raise TRANSITIVE — a raise of
    rise INTRANSITIVE — a raise in

    Uses without of that seem acceptable in British English are

    2. b. Weightlifting. The act of lifting or raising a part of the body while holding a weight; an instance of this.

    But even here there's a restriction

    Usu. with modifying word.

    e.g. abdominal raise, lateral raise, standing raise


    3.b. Cards. An increase of a stake or bet at poker; (Bridge) a higher bid in the same suit as a previous bid by one's partner. Also fig.

    The other senses are described as:

    3.a. Chiefly U.S. An increase in amount; an increase in the price, rate, value, etc., of something. Cf. rise n. 17.

    3.c. orig. U.S. An increase in wages or salary; a pay rise.

    The latter is described as orig. U.S because they've found BrE examples such as the Times from 1946

    Workers strike like clockwork to protest high prices, and nearly always win raises from management.

  17. @ Gilmoure

    The BRE equivalent of " Total Compensation" is "Total Reward". It's the same principle: we don't want to raise wages so we'll package up a whole lot of other things that we have always provided anyway / can get at a big discount / are obliged by law to provide / can write-off against tax and make it look like you are a lot better than you actually feel.

  18. Well, there's "I got a rise out of him..." which is idiomatic for I managed to annoy him (the extent of how annoyed varies) -- I don't know if that is only American, or not.

  19. Michael Flanders really knew how to use the word raise:

    Unaware of the wiles of the snake-in-the-grass
    And the fate of the maiden who topes,
    She lowered her standards by raising her glass,
    Her courage, her eyes and his hopes.

    She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did!
    He promptly refilled it again,
    And he said as he secretly carved one more notch
    On the butt of his gold-headed cane:

    Have some madeira, m'dear...

    In this New York performance he slips in a brief translation from British English.

  20. starwefter

    I don't know if that is only American, or not.

    According to the OED, it's Scottish in origin. The earliest quote is from 1703:

    1703 in Analecta Scotica (1837) II. 145, I thought it a good rise to attack thes of the English of that order who insulted us.

    The most recent quote is from a very British magazine:

    1996 Private Eye 28 June 14/2 Isn't a satirical magazine supposed to take the rise out of the party in power, not pick up their press releases?

  21. About the searchability of comments (whether off topic or not), Google seems to include the text of comments if you do a site-specific search of your blog. For example, pulls a bunch of results, including from comments, for "off topic."

  22. Yes, but the Blogger search widget does not. I like it when people can know what they're getting from the title of the post. I've written about my reasons/justification for this at length somewhere (the comments policy post only hits it briefly), but (ironically!) it must be in the comments somewhere and I just can't be bothered to do the laborious search for it!

  23. raise TRANSITIVE — a raise of
    rise INTRANSITIVE — a raise in

    CORRECTION. No, I didn't mean that! It was a slip of the keyboard. I meant a rise in.

    I could have gone a little further. The pattern for me and, I think, for BrE speakers in general is:

    raise TRANSITIVE — a raise of the OBJECT
    rise INTRANSITIVE — a rise in the SUBJECT

    The pattern is obscured because we tend strongly to use raising of in preference to raise of. Personally, I would only use it for a short single gesture: a raise of the eyebrow/of one hand/(possibly) of the white flag (but not of other sorts of flags). Also the short single act a raise of stakes. Even where raise is possible for me, I generally prefer raising.

    All those examples from COCA of raise in seem very alien to me, although unqualified I'd like a raise, please sounds only a bit American-ish.

  24. Someone has just shared a recipe on Facebook in American English which called for, among other things, a cup or so of "self-rising" flour.

    Now, "I took that strange" as my Northern Irish relations say; to me (BrE) it is always "self-raising" flour. Is it always "self-rising" in the USA, or was that idiosyncratic, or even a typo?

  25. Pink Floyd used "rise" in the song Money:

    But if you ask for a rise it's no surprise that they're giving none away

    If they were an American band then the lyrics wouldn't have rhymed and the course of history as we know it would've been forever altered.

  26. Mrs. Redboots - I "take it strange" another way: That it calls for self-r(a)ising flour at all. I've only seen it used in british recipes, american recipes normally use plain flour and make you add the baking powder or soda. My instincts say it should be self-rising (biscuits or muffins rise in the oven) but honestly, i don't know. Maybe it's a regional thing, or an old recipe.

  27. Mrs Reboots

    A little googling indicates:

    • a common belief that self-rising flour is the current North American term

    • an assertion that self-raising flour was invented and patented by a Bristol baker in 1845

    • that the earliest quotation in the OED is from an 1854 San Francisco newspaper, where it is referred to as the Self-Raising Flour

    I wonder whether American millers invented the term with lower-case rising so that they could offer a generic product in opposition to the patented brand.

    • I also discovered a strange spelling in the online OED, which quite messes up any search for self-raising/rising. The OED spelling is, bizarrely, self-'raising.

    My mother never used plain flour; I was relatively old when I discovered that such a thing existed. I didn't salvage her only cookbook — a battered coverless volume published by an Electricity Board, although she always cooked with gas. Perhaps there was a passing fashion for including self-raising flour in recipes before the war.

  28. Perhaps there was a passing fashion for including self-raising flour in recipes before the war.

    Scarcely passing, given that any British cookery book that involves cake will require it! Have a look at the flour selection on supermarket shelves sometime!

    Incidentally, my mother still has that cookery book.

  29. Mrs Redboots

    I've been aware of plain and self-raising flour for the past sixty years, but before that I only knew self-raising flour. So yes, I do look at the flour shelf in supermarkets; my favourite is sauce flour.

    My wife won't let me bake cakes, so I'm not familiar with printed cake recipes.

    I got confused by Anonymous's posting. I hadn't twigged that it's in America where the recipes all stipulate plain flour and baking powder.

  30. No, it's definitely a British thing to use self-raising flour in recipes, which is why I was rather surprised to see the recipe on Facebook, as well as being jarred by the unfamiliarity of "self-rising" flour.

  31. @Mrs Redboots

    It's almost always self-rising flour (and David Crosbie proved he is strong in the Google-fu by learning that we usually use plain flours with some sort of leavening) here. The one time I saw a "self-raising flour" I thought it was a typo.

    — Still Anonymous – and Now Baking! – in the U.S.

  32. So our flour and our pay are the other way round! I love it when things like that are drawn to my attention.

  33. @Mrs Redboots -- I hope you find this comment two years later! I suspect that the main reason several US commenters have never heard of "self-rising" flour (much less "self-raising") is that it's a typically Southern ingredient, not much used in other regions. More here.

    As the link notes, self-rising flour is particularly suited to biscuits -- which for an American means the distant, feathery-light relative of scones. They require a flour made from soft wheat, which is the type the South grows. I suspect that biscuits emerged as the standard Southern carb precisely because they were a better use of lower-protein Southern flour. Northern "hard" wheat varieties, higher in protein, yield better bread, and worse biscuits. (The above link is to a Northern, indeed truly Yankee, brand, King Arthur -- of Vermont. Their elaborate suggestions for trying to use their high-protein flour for low-protein biscuit recipes are....a lot more complicated than just mail-ordering proper Southern flour.)

    An archetypal recipe for Southern biscuits, using self-rising flour, can be found here. The author is from Oklahoma, which is culturally a mix of the South and West -- close enough, in other words.

  34. @ Christian Johnson - "self-raising" flour has nothing to do with the type of flour, either "soft" for (American) biscuits, scones and cakes or "hard" for bread. It incorporates a raising agent - probably bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar - and is widely used here for cakes, scones, pancakes, etc. The alternative is "plain" flour, which contains no such agent (although naturally some can be added by the cook); "Strong" flour is used for breadmaking; the kind with yeast already added is called "bread mix"!

  35. @Mrs. Redboots -- well understood! The point about soft v. hard flour is that in the US, self-rising flour is pretty much *only* available for soft flour. And that's because of the nexus between the South, soft wheat, and biscuits. In the rest of the country, where hard wheat predominates, self-rising flour is all but unknown, at least in my experience.

  36. Except that people still, I imagine, wish to make cakes and pastry, both of which are best made with "soft" flour (although pastry is normally made with what we call "plain" flour, with no raising agent added), no matter where in the USA they may live.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)