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pay (one's) dues
1. Literally, to pay the requisite fees to enter into or remain in an organization. If you don't pay your dues every month, they will rescind your membership without warning.
2. By extension, to work hard, gain the necessary skills or experience, or suffer hardships (in order to earn a position, set of rights, the respect of others, etc.). I paid my dues working in the warehouse for 10 years before I got this job in the head office.
3. To serve the sentence given to one upon conviction of a crime. He paid his dues in the eyes of the law, so he shouldn't be facing any further punishment for his past crimes. A: "We can't re-hire you—you're a criminal!" B: "Hey, I spent nearly 15 years in prison. I've paid my dues!"
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
pay one's dues
1. Lit. to pay the fees required to belong to an organization. If you haven't paid your dues, you can't come to the club picnic. How many people have paid their dues?
2. Fig. to have earned one's right to something through hard work or suffering. He worked hard to get to where he is today. He paid his dues and did what he was told. I have every right to be here. I paid my dues!
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
pay (one's) dues
To earn a given right or position through hard work, long-term experience, or suffering: She paid her dues in small-town theaters before being cast in a Broadway play.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.