Q&A: Bought vs brought

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, it's bought vs brought…bring it on!

Q: Hi AWC, have we ever discussed bought vs brought?

A: You’d think after doing these for three years that we would have by now… But actually, no, we haven’t.

Q: Can we talk about them now?

A: Yep, good idea. Both “bought” and “brought” are past-tense verbs. And we can’t really explain them without referencing their present-tense buddies – “buy” and “bring”.

Q: Okay.

A: So to buy something is typically to acquire possession of it in exchange for money. And if you did it in the past, you bought it.

Q: So any time that money changes hands, you “buy” or “bought” something?

A: Yes, although it can be used in other less tangible contexts, such as “buy some time”, “she bought favour with him” or the idiom “money can’t buy happiness”…

Q: Actually, in Japan now there are vending machines where it can.

A: Good to know. You also may have heard the idiom “bought the farm” – which means to die.

Q: Funny you should say that. Because my Uncle Ed actually DID buy a farm last month, and was killed in a freak accident as he hammered in the sold sign.

A: Wow, okay.

Q: It had been specially made for him by a sign maker, and he’d just met his maker that same day.

A: Right.

Q: As he fell he kicked the bucket he’d been using to collect milk.

A: Uh huh.

Q: He landed face first, mouth open and bit the dust at the base of the sign.

A: Hmmm.

Q: Odd timing, as the casino next door said he’d just cashed in his chips too.

A: I think we’ll move on to “bring” and “brought” shall we?

Q: Yes please.

A: Well, the main definition is “to take or go with something or someone”.

Q: Like “bring the beat back” from the 1990s or “bring me his head!” from the 1490s?

A: Yes. It’s usually a shifting in location (physical or metaphoric) – not a transaction. There are other examples too, such as “I brought up my children to be polite at the dinner table”.

Q: Or “I brought up my breakfast” – slightly less polite.

A: Quite.

Q: I didn’t even HAVE carrots for breakfast. I don’t get it…

A: You can also have someone “brought to account” for something they have done – i.e. explaining themselves.

Q: Or “the cold snap brought wind and rain”?

A: Yes, it’s all fairly straightforward when you think about it.

Q: So is there an easy way to remember “brought” and “bought”?

A: There sure is. “Brought” relates to “bring” – both with an R in their words. Meanwhile “bought” and “buy” go together, sans R.

Q: Cool. What does “sans” mean again?

A: It means “without” – and not in everyday usage these days, however does get used for dramatic or comedic purposes.

Q: And a “sans serif” font?

A: Serifs are the little twiggly bits on traditional looking fonts like Times New Roman. Whereas something more modern looking like Arial or Helvetica has none of those – so it's a “sans serif” font – without serifs.

Q: I like “Comic Sans” the best…

A: Get out now.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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