The Meaning of Per Diem: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of per diem? This article will give you all of the info you need on the term per diem, including its definition, etymology, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term per diem mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Zenefits, the term per diem is a Latin phrase that translates to “by the day.” This term can be used to refer to an amount of money that is paid to an employee for incidental expenses or travel expenses, or this can refer to the daily rate of an employee who is paid daily. 

Businesses might offer their employees a per diem when they are traveling in order to cover expenses they might not incur were they not to be traveling. This is a set amount of money paid daily to cover things like mileage reimbursement, dry cleaning, or other daily expenses. A per diem allowance might be paid upfront, or an employee might submit an expense report to get their reimbursement. This daily allowance is meant to offset the cost of living wherever it is the employee might be traveling – the cost of food for example is much higher in New York City than Ohio.

Examples of per diem employees might include substitute teachers, who are paid at a per diem rate for each day of substitute work they do. These per diem payments are paid as such because substitute teachers are not guaranteed to work every day. Self-employed people or freelance staff members might also set their own per diem rate for work, because they need to charge a fixed amount to cover their living expenses. This is different from a full-time employee who might receive a federal rate or standard rate of taxable income. Freelancers are not guaranteed a set amount of money paid weekly or biweekly, and therefore charge a per diem rate.

What are synonyms for the term per diem?

There are many different words that can be used in place of the word per diem. Someone might choose to use a synonym, which is a word or phrase that has the same definition as another word or phrase, because they want to avoid repeating themselves or because they want to expand their vocabulary. Below is a list of synonyms for the term per diem from Thesaurus

  • daily
  • regularly
  • day by day
  • constantly
  • quotidian
  • day-to-day
  • once daily
  • routine
  • diurnal
  • ordinary
  • once a day
  • often
  • circadian
  • everyday
  • common
  • day after day
  • cyclic
  • commonplace
  • periodic
  • from day to day
  • regular

What is the origin of the term per diem?

According to Etymonline, the term per diem has been used to mean daily since the 1510s. This comes as a direct translation from the Latin per diem, which means by the day. It has been used since the year 1809 as a noun that means a daily amount of money or allowance. Diem is the accusative singular form of the word dies, meaning day in Latin. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root dyeu, meaning to shine.

Also per Etymonline, the Latin term per is a preposition that means through or by means of. This was used in modern English since the 1510s, but can be seen in earlier Latin and French phrases, sometimes represented as par. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root per meaning forward. 

How can the term per diem be used in a sentence?

The term per diem can be used in a couple of different ways. First, it can be used to refer to an allowance that someone receives from their company on a business trip. In this example, Natalie is talking to her human resources person Rod to determine her per diem for her business trip.

Natalie: Do you know what I will receive in per diem, and if I have to submit that as an expense or if it is paid up front?

Rod: You can submit all of the expenses after the fact. We don’t have an exact budget, but try to keep your charges within reason. We know that you will have to charge things such as food and public transportation. Try and keep your receipts and fill out this expense log when you get back. Have a great trip!

Natalie: Thank you!

Here, Natalie uses the word per diem to refer to her daily expenses when she is traveling. Her human resources contact tells her that the company will not give her an exact budget or allowance, but that she can submit her expenses for reimbursement after the fact. In this next example, the human resources person is talking to a graphic designer that the company is considering hiring.

Rod: What is your hourly rate?

Graphic Designer: I actually charge a per diem rate – it’s a bit harder to calculate exactly how many hours go into a project, but I find that charging by the day has worked for me in the past. My daily rate is $500.

Rod: Great. That number is definitely within our budget, and we loved your portfolio. We would love to have you work with us on our next campaign.

Graphic Designer: Great! I’m excited to get started.

Overall, the term per diem is a Latin term that means daily. Often, this term is used to refer to an amount of money that is paid to employees, whether to reimburse them for travel expenses on a business trip or other business travel, or for an employee that receives a daily rate or pay. The per diem amounts are determined by human resources, and are often utilized for part-time employees or for other employee travel.