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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!