Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Bought or brought?

with 17 comments

Currier Shoe Shop, about 1890

Currier Shoe Shop, about 1890

I have been inundated with literally one request to provide a tip to remember the difference between ‘bought’ and ‘brought’.

I went to the shops and ‘brought’ some shoes, or ‘bought’ some shoes?

Just remember that ‘bought’ is the past tense of ‘buy’: neither word has an ‘r’.

And ‘brought’ is the past tense of ‘bring’: both words have an ‘r’.

Now you can spot the glaring error in this example from an interview with a BBC safety advisor published on the BBC website:

So then Stuart, what first bought you in to the wonderful world of Health and Safety?

Unless some unnamed object paid money for him, that should be ‘brought’. (I’m also not sure why ‘health’ and ‘safety’ is capitalised there, but that’s another subject.)

‘Buy’ and ‘bring’ are of Germanic origin. ‘Buy’ is from the Old English word ‘bycgan’, and bring is from the Old English ‘bringan’.

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Photo: ellenm1


17 Responses

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  1. Morning Deborah,

    I rather suspect that the BBC’s glaring error is simply a typo, for, in all honesty, I’m at a loss to know how anyone, other than, perhaps, a child (and even that would be a bit of a reach – or a “big ask” as intellectually-compromised TV pundits would have it), would confuse two words with such profoundly different meanings.


    10/08/2010 at 10:18 am

    • Actually, I know some kids confuse the two – just wanted to drop “big ask” in your lap. . . 😉


      10/08/2010 at 12:36 pm

      • Hi, Ron — I’m not so sure about it being a typo; people do confuse them. ‘Big ask’ is a favourite with sports commentators, isn’t it? Reminds me of Wimbledon. Another related one being ‘his opponent is asking lots of difficult questions’.


        10/08/2010 at 3:15 pm

  2. That’s a great tip for remembering the difference the between ‘brought’ and ‘bought’, which I’ll share with my children. I thought of ‘brought’ in the tense discussion the other day, as it’s one of those irregular past participles that confounds people who are learning English as a second language (and me, as a child!) ‘Brang’ and ‘Brung’ would make more sense because it would follow the rules of other verbs similar to ‘bring’, such as sing/sang/sung, fling/flang(haha! kidding)/flung, swim/swam/swum, ring/rang/rung etc.,

    Actually, I do like ‘flang’. It has a certain energy, a certain je ne sais quoi. 😉


    10/08/2010 at 12:48 pm

    • Brang, brung and even flang are already popular in the US, mainly in the south.


      10/08/2010 at 4:04 pm

      • Thanks, Ron. Interesting!


        10/08/2010 at 4:19 pm

    • Hi, Jo-Anne — thanks, I hope it helps your children to remember. I quite often hear the two confused when said (by adults and children), although not so much when written, for some reason. Yes, the pesky past tense raises its head again. I like ‘flang’ too.


      10/08/2010 at 3:07 pm

  3. “(I’m also not sure why ‘health’ and ‘safety’ is capitalised there, but that’s another subject.)”

    It’s “Health and Safety,” as in the Executive of that name, hence the caps.


    10/08/2010 at 5:48 pm

    • Possibly, Ron. That may be what the writer was thinking of. I still don’t think the caps are necessary there; I think it’s a generic use of ‘health and safety’ which doesn’t need caps.


      10/08/2010 at 5:56 pm

  4. “…bring is from the Old English ‘bringan’.”

    Hence “bringan buy sale”, perhaps?

    Sorry – it’s a slow day…


    11/08/2010 at 11:10 am

    • That’s very witty and made me smile. Thanks, Ron.


      11/08/2010 at 1:08 pm

  5. I think I say brought more than brang or brung, but never thought about brung not being a word, but I’m from North Carolina.


    12/08/2010 at 9:47 pm

    • Hi, Lisa — thanks for sharing your North Carolina perspective!


      12/08/2010 at 10:26 pm

  6. You know, I am flabbergasted that people cannot tell the difference between “brought” and “bought”? I think it is just another case of lazy linguistics. Similar to my pet hate, when people say “of” instead of “have”. This is becoming more and more the norm, especially on TV.

    Lizi Brown

    13/08/2010 at 2:00 pm

    • Oh, I don’t know, Lizi, my flabber gets more gasted by other language-related things (to use a technical linguistic term). There’s a discussion on the blog somewhere about ‘of’ and ‘have’ but I can’t currently put my finger on it. Watch this space.


      13/08/2010 at 4:21 pm

  7. As Lisa said, “brung” is sadly too common in the US.

    You could make a thin argument that Stuart “bought in” to H&S if he enthusiastically threw himself into the job or subject.

    Michael Farrell

    13/08/2010 at 5:06 pm

    • Hi, Michael — yes, I suppose you could make that argument. But it would be a bit tenuous, I think. Thanks.


      13/08/2010 at 6:38 pm

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