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Recently, I came across the verb to bathe written as bath in two English coursebooks used by Italian students. The first time I saw it, I dismissed it as a typographical error and told my private student that the verb was bathe, but when it appeared a second time, in a different textbook, I checked with an online dictionary and read the following definition with which I am most familiar.

Merriam-Webster

  1. bath verb: to wash (someone) in a container filled with water
    "to give a bath to (someone)"
    "to have a bath" : to wash yourself in a bath

But in a different dictionary I read this

Oxford Dictionaries
[WITH OBJECT] British
1. Wash (someone) while immersing them in a bath:
how to bath a baby

1.1 [NO OBJECT] Wash oneself while immersed in a bath:
a)there was no hot water to bath in
b)These are the people that quite happily let me shower and bath with no hot water for 10 days, because they couldn't be bothered to fix a tap.

I told my student that it appeared that to bath was a BrEng variation and that Americans probably didn't say or use it.

However, upon doing some research I found many websites that use bath and bathe indiscriminately, with the same meaning

  • How do I bath my baby? Netsmum.com (UK)
  • Read about how to bath your baby NCT.uk (UK)
  • In California it is illegal to bath two babies in the same bath at the same time. Stupid Laws.com (US) [this might be a typo]
  • But try not to bath more than once a day Raising Children.net.au (Aus)
  • You can bath the baby daily, but make sure… . Marhababy (Arab Emirates)

  • It’s not necessary to bathe your newborn every day Mother & Baby.com.au (Aus)
  • If it's easier for you to bathe the twins during the day... Parents.com (US)
  • The first time you bathe your baby, you may feel a bit nervous. Babycenter.in (India)
  • You don't need to bathe your baby every day... NHS.uk (UK)
  • What’s the best way to bathe my baby? InfaCare (UK)

The above shows the transitive use of the verb bath/bathe. I presume the age of the child or adult being bathed is not a key factor, it was just easier for me to search "bath/e your baby".

The phrase in one of my student's coursebook was using the intransitive form instead.

You'll visit onsen or thermal springs where we recommend you bath communally like the Japanese.

Questions: Apparently, both forms are acceptable but is to bath AmEng or BrEng? Is it grammatical? (I just find it so odd.)

Finally, if the pronunciation of the verb to bath is /bɑːθ/ (UK) and /baTH/ (US) does this effect the pronunciation of the past form bathed? i.e. /bɑːθt/ (I don't think it does, but I'd just like a confirmation)

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    In Britain either bath or bathe are acceptable as verbs. My sense is that the former is far more common, and the latter sounds a bit posh and even affected. Bathe, for most people, would suggest swimming. – WS2 Nov 3 '14 at 11:45
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    @Mari-LouA well we do say 'have a bath'. But we also bath the baby, and sometimes 'bath' as often as once a week. 'Bath' is definitely used as a verb in Britain. My wife (who is Malaysian) talks about bathing and taking a bath even when she means showering. Though this sometimes confuses British people. – WS2 Nov 3 '14 at 11:53
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    Very few people in the UK would use either bath or bathe very often in speech. 'Have a bath' is far more colloquial. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 3 '14 at 12:14
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    @Mari-LouA Using bath to mean the verb bathe strikes me as unusual as would be dispensing with the terminal e's from verbs like bathe, breathe, clothe, lathe, lithe, loathe, scathe, scythe, seethe, sheathe, teethe, or writhe: the version the e at the end would devoice the th and become a mere noun, not a verb. I would read and say it wrong. – tchrist Nov 3 '14 at 12:39
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    I don't recall ever hearing "bath" used as a verb here in the US -- always "bathe". (Or at the very least, if someone said "bath" as a verb I would have interpreted it as part of their foreign accent.) – Hot Licks Nov 3 '14 at 12:40
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Those are not typos. Native speakers of British English do use bath as a transitive verb. Bathe on its own suggests swimming, and probably specifically seaside swimming — not even in swimming baths (which are swimming pools these days anyway).

Bathe is almost poetic: something might be bathed in light. Apart from bathe a wound, to hear it used literally rather than metaphorically is rare to the point of extinction.

In British English, the word bathed can be pronounced /beɪðd/ or /bɑːθt/ depending on its root.

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    @Mari-LouA "We recommend you bath communally" is standard British usage (apart from bathing communally, which isn't!) – Andrew Leach Nov 3 '14 at 13:18
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    BrEng here, bath reads incorrectly for me, I would use bathe, in fact, 'tis more likely I would use wash in the case of the baby, as that is the purpose of the act! I disagree with Andrew about the suggestion of swimming, but agree with the poetic and pronunciation points. – Sam Nov 3 '14 at 13:45
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    This must be a British thing, because bathe in the US I have never heard used to describe swimming. Taking a bath or bathing is the act of cleaning yourself in water; swimming is what you do in the ocean to move from point to point (or recreation) or in a pool for recreation or sport. – Andy Nov 3 '14 at 13:50
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    I trust your evaluation of this as correct and common in British English, but you might add a note to your answer to the effect of this usage being rare and widely perceived as incorrect in American English (since the OP asked about both). – Chris Sunami Nov 3 '14 at 19:08
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    @ChrisSunami What Andrew Leach has said is entirely borne out by the OED, which gives as the meaning of the verb 'bath': trans. To subject to a bath; to wash or immerse in a bath. Differing from bathe in having a more distinct reference to bath n.1 11, and in being always literal. One does not bathe primarily to wash oneself. It is for the pleasure of immersing oneself in agreeable waters, such as when we swim for pleasure. Notices abound on British beaches which say things like 'It is dangerous to bathe here', and 'No bathing'. (c. fwd) – WS2 Nov 3 '14 at 21:10
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Just some observations and Ngrams. The results on the American English corpus indicate that the verb to bath is rarely used if at all. Whereas the expression to wash the baby seems to be overtaking its counterpart to bathe

AmEng corpus data

Meanwhile the British English corpus shows the slow upward trend for to bathe the baby which has been picking up momentum since the mid 1960s; but both bath and bathe are overshadowed by the expression to wash the baby

BrEng corpus data

This confirms Andrew Leach's claim (not that I would ever doubt his word) that

Native speakers of British English do use bath as a transitive verb.

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    I completely endorse everything in @Andrew's answer, but I'm also upvoting this one because you did specifically ask about AmE. There will always be some BrE speakers who aren't actually familiar with our "verbified noun" usage, or who object to it on other (pedantic?) grounds. But I suspect many of the sceptical comments are from people more familiar with AmE usages. Which increasingly over my time on ELU I find to be relatively "conservative" in respect of current, ongoing linguistic innovation. – FumbleFingers Nov 3 '14 at 18:55
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    @Mari-LouA Well I have not heard of an instance. Undoubtedly there are some, but the Ngrams would have us believe that to 'bathe the baby' was nowadays more common than 'to bath the baby'. That, I do not believe for one moment. – WS2 Nov 3 '14 at 21:48
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    @WS2 Ngrams has many merits and limitations, it needs to be used judicially and that includes checking the results posted at the bottom of the chart. I haven't done the latter, but I did find online many instances of to bathe the baby on British websites. I posted one link, the NHS one no less. – Mari-Lou A Nov 3 '14 at 21:57
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    @WS2 I've upvoted your comment :) Hopefully visitors will take note. – Mari-Lou A Nov 3 '14 at 22:23
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    I'm a little concerned that we are bathing our babies a lot less than we did in the 1940s. – Mordred Nov 3 '14 at 22:24
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As you've discovered, it is a valid British usage. I would like to confirm that "to bath" is never used in any American dialect I've heard. If you're preparing students to speak American English, they can safely ignore that usage :)

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    On the other hand, American English certainly has had similar constructions in the past. For example, in the lyrics for "Miss Otis Regrets", the word "Lunch" is used as a verb meaning "to have lunch with someone". That was mostly an upperclass usage, which is why it appears in this song, in which the singer is playing the role of a servant is explaining why Miss Otis has been forced to change her plans for the day. – keshlam Nov 4 '14 at 4:47
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    I found this blog article, written by an American (he uses American spelling) and in it, he uses the verb to bath. "A laborer in the lumbermill operated a bath house at Barneston - providing a place for Japanese men returning home after a hard day's work to bath communally. In keeping with tradition, women and children could bath only after the men." – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 9:53
  • I added the caveat "that I've heard", because I don't doubt that there are still people who use "bath" that way. They are in a small minority, though. – Stephen C Nov 4 '14 at 19:36
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No, those are just typos. I have never heard a native speaker of American English use bath as a verb. It is bathe or take/give a bath.

(Indian English, at least, and so British English I guess, they do use bath as a verb.)

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    You can't just put 'No, those are just typos'. Why shouldn't an Italian website employ British usage? – Edwin Ashworth Nov 3 '14 at 12:19
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    @WS2 - No, in the US you do not "bath" the baby. – Hot Licks Nov 3 '14 at 12:44
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    @Edwin: while I wouldn't be too surprised if it's used regionally in the U.S., "bath the baby" sounds very strange to an American from the Northeast. It would be "give the baby a bath", "wash the baby", or "bathe the baby". – Peter Shor Nov 3 '14 at 13:38
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    @WS2 No, in the US you give the baby a bath, or you bathe the baby. Bath the baby sounds really strange and I've never once heard it said here. – Andy Nov 3 '14 at 13:51
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    I didn't say 'They shouldn't use American English'. Your 'Sounds like you believe the American dialect is somehow inferior to the British one' is an unwarranted slur, saying rather more about you than me. My objection was to the answerer's implication that because this usage doesn't fit with their preferred style, there must be an error (typo) involved. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 3 '14 at 15:35
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I'm American, and I have never heard Americans say "to bath." I have always heard "to give a bath" or "to take a bath" or "to bathe." I was just watching an Australian TV show and heard them say "to bath," which sounded so strange to me I googled it and it led me here. I have also lived a year in London (granted I don't know how often I talked about bathing with people but probably not much) and I didn't notice it there. I also have been living in Spain for 2 and a half years at a very international university, and I still have never heard it (again, I don't really talk about washing bodies with too many people).

  • Not really an answer, but an interesting contribution from someone who has direct contact with three different dialects, nevertheless. – Mari-Lou A Nov 24 '15 at 7:28
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This is another instance where looking at it as a BrEng versus AmEng issue simply confuses the matter.

You bath by dumping yourself in a bath of some sort specifically to get clean, as in the two dictionary entries provided by the OP. There is naturally a grey area on deciding what is or isn't a bath.

You bathe by cleaning yourself someother way. At a tap, or wiping with a damp cloth, or taking a shower. You can also bathe by immersing yourself in water (usually... it can be light, sunshine, glory etc. but you can't bath in those things) just for the pleasure of it. The sea, a river, a lake, or in some circumstances a bath if you do the candles + wine + a book thing. In a related way, bathe can be used to sound refined as Mari-Lou commented, the implication being that the individual didn't need cleaning, they were just in the bath for pleasure.

Hence, whether you bath the baby or bathe the baby depends on whether you immerse it in something that you percieve to be a bath, or rinse it under a tap etc. It is a pscholinguistic issue, not a BrEng or AmEng issue. This is also why 'bathe the baby' shows a decline in Ngram - because more people have showers rather than an old-fashioned bath.

As for bath versus have/take a bath, this is an issue of formality. "I am going to bath" is more formal than "I am going to have a bath".

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    Is not bath as a verb entirely transitive? That is, "I am going to bath Thomas"? "I am going to bath" sounds distinctly odd; "I am going to bath myself" scarcely less so. But you're right about bathe indicating "luxuriating enjoyably": I should have put that in my answer. – Andrew Leach Nov 4 '14 at 7:59
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    To me this seems entirely wrong. The plain fact is that Americans rarely if ever use "to bath" in the same situations where the British apparently use it commonly. It has nothing to do with the different circumstances and everything to do with the different dialects. – Chris Sunami Nov 4 '14 at 14:19
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    This is a BrEng vs. AmEng issue. It is a little confounded by American history, but it is still firmly divided by geography, not psycholinguistics. – Stephen C Nov 4 '14 at 22:18
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    Ach... hate that 5 minute edit nonsense... one phone call or a knock at the door and your edit time is gone... Try again: - We British hardly ever use to bath either. We usually have a bath – Roaring Fish Nov 5 '14 at 13:02
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    @RoaringFish I'm taking AndrewLeach's word for it that bath is at least occasionally used as a verb in England. I have never heard it used as a verb in America, and if I did, I would consider it incorrect. – Chris Sunami Nov 5 '14 at 14:07
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I first heard bath as a verb in Canada and assumed it was simply incorrect usage, since in the US we use the verb to bathe. While I have never heard someone from the UK use bath as a verb, it seems that it can be used as such there and in many commonwealth nations. I think it sounds stupid. As for the discussion of the use of bathe with respect to swimming pools, lakes and oceans, I can attest that in my childhood in the US I did hear this usage. I believe it is essentially dead now in the US, with the possible exception of using the term 'bathing suit' instead of 'swimsuit.'

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To add my two cents, I'm an American with a Canadian mother. I always say "I'm going to bath the dog" rather than "bathe the dog" and my mum says that "bath" is incorrect. Where did I learn "bath the dog"? Not sure, but it sounds fine to me.

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My 2 pence. A bath is something you clean in or used as a verb to clean. To bathe means to be in a body of water.

So you would bath your kid. But you’d bathe in the local swimming pool/river.

You wouldn’t bathe your dog, you’d bath it.

  • Welcome to ELU, please add sources to support your answers. – JJJ Apr 5 '18 at 16:33

protected by tchrist Apr 5 '18 at 14:27

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