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Brought and Bought—Learn the Difference Quickly

Brought and bought are two words are often confused with each other, particularly when one first learns English. They are both irregular verbs with an -ough- construction—a combination that trips many up with both pronunciation and spelling.

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The difference between brought and bought

Brought is the past tense and past participle of the verb to bring, which means “to carry someone or something to a place or person.”

Bought is the past tense and past participle of the verb to buy, which means “to obtain something by paying money for it.”

Both brought and bought rhyme with cot, tot, and plot.

Legend has it that European explorers bought Manhattan for twenty-four dollars.

Alex brought a cup of coffee to his exhausted mother.

Bought implies an economic transaction; brought implies the transport of something (or someone).

Conjugating bought and brought

To buy

Present Tense I buy you buy he/she/it buys we buy you buy they buy
Simple Past Tense I bought you bought he/she/it bought we bought you bought they bought
Present Participle I am buying you are buying he/she/it is buying we are buying you are buying they are buying
Past Participle I/you/we/(s)he/it/they bought

To bring

Present Tense I bring you bring he/she/it brings we bring you bring they bring
Simple Past Tense I brought you brought he/she/it brought we brought you brought they brought
Present Participle I am bringing you are bringing he/she/it is bringing we are bringing you are bringing they are bringing
Past Participle I/you/we/(s)he/it/they brought

Why do we have the spellings brought and bought?

As funny as it would seem to use buyed and bringed as past tenses of to buy and to bring, you might be wondering how these irregular verbs came to be spelled so differently in the first place. The truth is, these two verbs have been irregular in English for more than a thousand years. No kidding!

In Old English, which was in use roughly from the fifth century to the eleventh, the verb bycġan meant the equivalent of our verb to buy and had the past tense bohte. Similarly, the equivalent past tense of to bring was brohte. Both are ancient words that can be traced to Proto-Germanic origins and perhaps even further back. The h in the middle of these two words represent a hard sound similar to the Scottish h in loch.

Suffice it to say that by the time the French invaded England in 1066, bohte and brohte were firmly ensconced in the language. Over time, the French influence on English regularized the spelling of the hard, middle sound of these words, and others like them, to gh. This is how words containing ough came to be part of our language. The spelling has survived the ages, even though the original pronunciation has not.

Bought and brought have proved their staying power, and unless you plan on living upwards of a thousand years, you are not likely to see a simplified spelling of either of them. Although you never know—there are little spelling rebellions thriving in our text messages these days, like nite for night and thru for through. If one of those words becomes standard, perhaps the whole gh dynasty will come tumbling down someday.

Now that we have sorted out bought and brought, perhaps you will want to learn more about other commonly confused words.

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