9

It was suggested to me that the correct verb to use referring to something I paid for in the past is the word purchased:

I purchased x.

instead of

I bought x.

As far as I can tell, the words are almost the same in this context. The only thing I've seen online is that boughten is a colloquial past participle of the word bought.

Is bought ever, if rarely, considered colloquial? Is it ever improper to use when referring to a recent purchase?


Edit: not spoken English, and not sure how relevant, but here's an ngrams graph of "bought vs purchased."

http://imgur.com/IEO1D2e

  • No, boughten is not a colloquial past tense of buy. It is an old past participle used strictly as an adjective, and remains current in some dialects. It's like drink, drank, drunk, drunken for a drunken man and buy, bought, bought, boughten for the opposite of a homemade item: a store-boughten one. – tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 2:05
  • Ah, updated. Is there a styling guide for how to properly ask questions? – BurnsBA Aug 16 '13 at 13:20
  • That's a good question, about a styling guide. I think there might be something on Meta, but it may not be complete/current. – tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 14:22
5

Macmillan tags purchase as formal, while their definition of buy in the sense of of "to get something by paying money for it" has no such qualifier.

The phrase bought it is a colloquial or informal way of saying killed. But bought on its own is, as the linked definition says, simply "the past tense and present participle of buy."

EDIT: M-W lists boughten as a dialectical form of bought, and provides this delightful example:

my red sled, and my boughten wagon --W.A. White

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7

Bought isn't generally considered colloquial, but purchased certainly is more formal. There's no reason it would be considered improper regarding recent purchases in particular, unless for some reason any shred of informality is forbidden.

It may be useful to look at the most common collocations of each in British English:

PURCHASE PRICE
PURCHASE AGREEMENT
PURCHASE ORDER
PURCHASE BEHAVIOUR
PURCHASE GOODS
PURCHASE MONEY
PURCHASE SCHEMES
PURCHASE SHARES
PURCHASE DECISIONS
PURCHASE AGREEMENTS
PURCHASE TAX
PURCHASE DECISION
PURCHASE ORDERS
PURCHASE GRANT
PURCHASE LAND
PURCHASE TERMS
PURCHASE CONTRACT
PURCHASE CONTRACTS
PURCHASE NOTICE
PURCHASE LEDGER
PURCHASE POWERS
PURCHASE CONSIDERATION
PURCHASE MOTIVATION
PURCHASE SCHEME
PURCHASE SERVICES
PURCHASE ARMS
PURCHASE FUND
PURCHASE GRANTS
PURCHASE MONIES

BUY SHARES
BUY FOOD
BUY THINGS
BUY GOODS
BUY TIME
BUY TICKETS
BUY LAND
BUY EQUIPMENT
BUY CLOTHES
BUY BOOKS
BUY PROPERTY
BUY PRODUCTS
BUY HOUSES
BUY PLAYERS
BUY DECISION
BUY DRINKS
BUY PRESENTS
BUY STUFF
BUY UNITS
BUY SERVICES
BUY BREAD
BUY DRUGS
BUY FISH
BUY STOCK
BUY COMPUTER
BUY CONDOMS
BUY HOMES
BUY RECORDS
BUY CIGARETTES

Most of the collocations for purchase have to do with business interactions, where communications and descriptions are usually formal. Most of the collocations for buy are for daily goods, which would usually be mentioned in informal conversation. Even if neither is usually explicitly identified as formal or informal, the usage pattern shows it.

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  • 4
    I appreciate your input, but could you explain any major points to take away from this data? – BurnsBA Aug 15 '13 at 19:21
  • Sure. Most of the collocations for purchase have to do with business interactions, where communications and descriptions are usually formal. Most of the collocations for buy are for daily goods, which would usually be mentioned in informal conversation. Even if neither is usually explicitly identified as formal or informal, the usage pattern shows it. – Backgammon Aug 15 '13 at 23:24
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    Backgammon, it would probably be useful to include that in your answer instead of just posting a comment about it. – Marthaª Aug 16 '13 at 13:27
4

Where I live in the northeast USA, forms of buy are more likely to be heard in informal conversation than those of purchase, whereas you are more likely to hear purchase in formal situations, such as when dealing with a salesperson or financial professional. In noun form, purchases and acquisitions are used formally, as buys or constructs such as things I bought are definitely informal.

Boughten would normally be used as a participle; bought is already the past tense of buy. I think it's more archaic than colloquial, I certainly haven't heard it used much in everyday conversation.

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  • Boughten is an archaic or dialectic participial form. If you ask rural Wisconsinites what the opposite of home-made is, a great many of them will answer store-boughten. One other thing: please, please, please, please, ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇ, ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇ, ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇ, ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇ do not try to use backticks for italics or quoting on ELU: it does not work, and produces only reprehensibly repugnant blue monospace. The use–mention distinction is best rendered by setting in italic, the way proper reference books do these things. – tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 2:13
  • @tchrist: what's that bit of gibberish between the fourth "please" and "do not try"? All I see is [box]L[box][box]S[box], repeated 4 times. – Marthaª Aug 16 '13 at 13:30
  • @Marthaª It's a 1995 thing, Martha. You know that. – tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 14:20
  • @Marthaª Your use of "gibberish" was borderline rude. You know full well that things like code point U+1D07 ‹ᴇ› LATIN LETTER SMALL CAPITAL E, are part of the Unicode Standard version 4.0, published now more then ten years ago. It sounds like you are running something with no updates this side of the Millennium, Martha, and you cannot expect everyone else to remain stuck in the Stone Age of yestercentury just because you are. Please install fonts that support modern/current Latin characters at the very least, and please use a browser and GUI with a reasonable glyph-replacement policy. – tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 15:34
  • @tchrist: my apologies, I did not mean to offend you with my use of "gibberish". I merely wanted to call your attention to some text that obviously didn't come across as intended on my end. (My OS and browser are both as updated as they get. Granted, the OS is not the newest, but the newest OS from M$ is a steaming pile of horse turd, so I'm holding on to this machine as long as I can.) – Marthaª Aug 16 '13 at 18:59
3

Etymology of buy from Dictionary.com:

before 1000; Middle English byen, variant of byggen, buggen, Old English bycgan; cognate with Old Saxon buggjan, Gothic bugjan to buy, Old Norse byggja to lend, rent

Etymology of purchase from Dictionary.com:

before 1150; (v.) Middle English purchasen < Anglo-French purchacer to seek to obtain, procure ( Old French pourchacier ), equivalent to pur- (< Latin prō pro1 ) + chacer to chase1 ; (noun) Middle English < Anglo-French purchas ( Old French porchas ), derivative of the v.

Assuming this is true, we surmise that the word purchase is "newer" to English, or that it came into usage more recently than buy. What major event happened between 1000 A.D. and 1150 A.D.?

The Norman conquest of England. 1066 A.D. One of only a handful of things that modern-day U.S. students learn in high school, second only to that Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest_of_England

After this, there was a major cultural shift in the area. From the same Wikipedia article:

One of the most obvious effects of the conquest was the introduction of Anglo-Norman, a northern dialect of Old French, as the language of the ruling classes in England, displacing Old English. French words entered the English language, and a further sign of the shift was the usage of names common in France instead of Anglo-Saxon names. Male names such as William, Robert and Richard soon became common; female names changed more slowly. The Norman invasion had little impact on placenames, which had changed significantly after earlier Scandinavian invasions. It is not known how much English the Norman invaders learned, nor how much the knowledge of French spread among the lower classes, but the demands of trade and basic communication probably meant that at least some of the Normans and native English were bilingual.

French and Latin became the only allowed languages in courts of law. French and Romance culture in general reigned as the more "civilized" and "advanced" society. Old English speakers and Old English words were shunned and ridiculed as the language of the peasants.


Cut to present day, we still see this in effect in today's English. To say that we have a gut-ache, would sound practically vulgar. Instead, we use the Romance word, stomache-ache.

Origin: 1300–50; Middle English stomak < Latin stomachus gullet, stomach < Greek stómachos orig., opening; akin to stoma

You don't pay for things with a writ, you pay for them with a check/checque.

Origin: before 900; Middle English, Old English; cognate with Old Norse rit writing, Gothic writs letter. See write

In England and America, we don't eat swine — although people who speak Germanic languages still eat Schweinfleisch. No no, we eat porque. Not swine. Swine sounds gross.

Oh yeah! Gross! Isn't that funny, considering what "gross" typically means in American and British English. It's used to describe something repulsive, whereas in German it just means... big. However, if we want to talk about something being large:

1125–75; Middle English < Old French < Latin larga, feminine of largus ample, generous

So in conclusion, I would say that yes, purchase is more "formal" than buy, especially in legal and intellectual matters, simply because of the thousand-year-old cultural cataclysm I described.

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