Q&A: Bought vs brought

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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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