Referencing this answer.

Are buy and purchase synonyms in every aspect/context of paying money?

What I thought that these terms were unit-based:

  • if you pay for a single unit (1 cigarette or 1 pkt cigarette), then it's buy
  • if you pay for bulk (a truck load of cigarettes), then it's purchase

In other words, purchase is for wholesale, buy is for retail.

Please correct me if this is completely wrong. Please provide the word for the situation for the same context I described.

  • 1
    The answer you linked to flat-out says: "Purchase is a synonym for buy and means the same". I'm not sure how you took away from that that purchase is for wholesale and buy is for retail. So it comes as little surprise that all five answers here simply repeat right back at you what you've already read there: no, nothing with quantity. And some do so by quoting a dictionary, no less. It is not entirely clear what the point of this exercise this. Also, what do you mean by "the word for the situation for the same context I described"? What situation and what context? Please clarify.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 5, 2014 at 11:46
  • Situation/ Context is : what are the different term for unit and bulk purchasing/buying?
    – xkeshav
    Dec 5, 2014 at 12:26
  • In the sense of a commercial transaction, "buy" and "purchase" (the verbs) are essentially identical, except that "purchase" has a slightly more formal "feel" to it. However, one might say "that's a real buy" or maybe "that's quite a buy" (noun form) to indicate a bargain. And "purchase" can be used as a noun with a rather different meaning, to indicate the ability to grasp/hold, as "I tried to climb that hill but I couldn't get purchase."
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 7, 2014 at 0:56
  • @no one in particular I'm not sure I'm willing to buy your argument.
    – Airymouse
    Jan 21, 2017 at 14:37
  • 1
    @Airymouse - Ah, but would you purchase it?
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 23, 2017 at 18:33

10 Answers 10


Difference Between has:

Buying and Purchasing:

  • are two terms that are often used interchangeably. The words essentially have the same meaning, but they do differ in context. However, in modern usage, they are considered as synonyms.

  • Essentially, both the terms mean to acquire something against money. However, there is some difference between them, specifically regarding the contexts in which they may be used. Buying is considered a general term, which is most commonly used to refer to everyday goods and commodities, while, purchase is considered to be a more formal word than buy. Purchasing is often used to refer to contracts and big products, whereas buying is inferred for small products. For example: ‘I purchased a piece of land’ or ‘The government purchased a huge defense contract.’ However, ‘I bought a new phone.’

  • Still, it must be noted that in daily usage, the terms are synonymous. For example: I bought a new book. I purchased a new book.

Dictionary.com defines buy as:

  • to acquire the possession of, or the right to, by paying or promising to pay an equivalent, especially in money; purchase.

and purchase as:

  • to acquire by the payment of money or its equivalent; buy.
  • 13
    So often in English you find two words which mean the same, or almost the same thing; pig and pork, lamb and mutton, etc. English is composed essentially of two languages (+ more besides). Whilst 'buy' is of Saxon origin, 'purchase' is from Norman French. And it follows the usual pattern, 'purchase' being Norman is used for bigger and more important things, whilst Saxon 'buy' is for everyday use. It is one of the things which gives English its wonderfully expressive vocabulary, and why 'words' rather than 'grammar' are the essence of our tongue.
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2014 at 10:43
  • 1
    @WS2 'words' rather than 'grammar' are the essence of our tongue is an intriguing idea. Can you recommend any literature on the topic?
    – Joel Anair
    Dec 5, 2014 at 14:49
  • Thanks. Josh for a full insight of every little confusion over this.
    – xkeshav
    Dec 6, 2014 at 10:47
  • WS2 is correct, and many people call this effect the "Latinization of English." See english.stackexchange.com/a/227726/103476 Mar 9, 2015 at 13:52
  • How about "buying votes", or "buying the judge"? I've never heard of "vote purchasing" scandals. Apr 16, 2015 at 9:06

As verbs, synonymous. You can "buy" or "purchase" one or many items. In ordinary conversation, most people use "buy", probably because it's shorter. "purchase" seems more formal. (In business, supplies are bought often via a Purchase Order. However, a "buy order" refers to an order to purchase shares of stock on stock market. There are also "sell orders" in the stock market, but I haven't encountered them in other fields of business, either.)

..... As nouns, you can't always substitute "buy" for "purchase". For instance, if I say I bought some furniture, you could ask me "How much did that purchase cost you?" but not "how much did that buy cost you?". However, this is not enforced in business English, where you might hear reference to "a buy" (especially an "ad buy"). And if anyone tells you something was "a great buy", it means he got a great deal, that is, an excellent low price, a bargain.


Buy has one syllable and of Old English origin while purchase has two syllables and of Norman French origin. This leads people to use the former in slightly lower registers than the latter, though the effect is not strong (not as strong between a common and Latin name for a disease, for example) and so both will indeed be found in all registers.

There are some senses and phrases where one finds only one or the other, such as purchase as a (rare) legal term for any legal means of acquiring land other than inheritance, or buy being more likely to be paired with sell.

Aside from those minor differences though, the two verbs are pretty much synonymous.

The noun senses are less synonymous, in particular purchase can be used of both the act of purchasing and the item purchased, while buy only of the act of purchasing. Buy though is more likely to be used of a hypothetical purchase; "At that price it's a great buy". The difference in register is greater here too, with the newer 19th-Century Americanism (though long since absorbed into all forms of English) of noun buy being still rather informal.


Buy and purchase are completely synonymous. You can purchase one cigarette, just as you can buy ten thousand of them.

There is no single word for buying as a 'dealer'. You might refer to buying something in bulk, or buying something wholesale.

  • yes. bulk purchase?
    – xkeshav
    Dec 5, 2014 at 10:43
  • @diEcho Yes you can bulk buy, bulk purchase, buy in bulk, purchase in bulk, make a bulk puchase or even make a bulk buy for the acquisition of products in any quantity above your normal immediate needs and the terms are equivalent. What constitutes a bulk purchase (or buy) differs according to the product and the quantity you use. If I bought a pack of tins of baked beans that would be a bulk buy; if my local convenience store bought a pallet of them that would probably be a bulk buy. However a large supermarket would probably have to buy a container load beford it became a bulk buy.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:46

When you purchase a pair of shoes, you buy them.

Purchase can refer to the act of buying or the thing you bought - When you buy furniture, food, a car, or candy, you purchase it.

In its noun form buy means 'the items were bought'.

Unit vs bulk purchasing/buying: If you buy a pair of jeans at your neighborhood Chique Boutique, you’re buying/purchasing retail, but if you go to China and buy a boatload of jeans directly from the manufacturer, you’re buying/purchasing wholesale.


Which term to use isn't related to item quantity.

The difference is merely the level of formality. This however may result in the term "purchasing" being more commonly used by people in a business environment while "buy" may be perceived as a term mainly being used by consumers.

Using "purchase" in a private context makes one seem overly formal. However, both words can be used interchangeably.

Both of these examples are correct in terms of word usage even though they refer to a single unit:

I am going to purchase a car.

I am going to buy a car.


Consider the expression bought and paid for. You may go into a shop and buy/purchase something by giving a cheque. The effectively means that you have promised to pay the retailer the money they want which can be obtained from your bank using the cheque which is a promissory note. Hopefully you have put money in the bank account, so that when the cheque is presented payment can be made. There is no difference between buying or purchasing something, however whichever you prefer to call it, neither is accomplished until the process in completed and payment has been made.


Perhaps there are websites that call a consumer a buyer and a wholesaler a purchaser, but there really is no difference in meaning between the two. A wholesaler buys two-hundred pieces of a product while a consumer might only purchase one. A dealer purchases one thousand phones and a consumer might only buy one. Totally interchangeable.


The difference would be functional; some answers alluded to securities and land. In the common law tradition, you often get what you bargained for. Technically you buy goods and you purchase a legal estate1 yet it is always a sale. So it may have no direct bearing on how the words are used casually.2 But it does showcase a fundamental division in property law between personal/movable property and real/immovable property.3 Statutes will reflect that accordingly. Hence in commercial law, in relation to the sale of goods, you will usually find buy(er)(US: 1, 2; UK: 1) whereas in core laws dealing with real estate you will usually find purchaser (State of New York: 1&2; UK: 1). Such a division doesn't preclude other specialized meanings within individual instruments/legal areas.4

1. See this old legal dictionary. 2. For context, property is an abstraction; as ownership it's the legal relationship to the object rather than its materiality i.e. the casual meaning is often related to possession (my apple, I possess it therefor I own it). During the sale of a "house", the rights are conveyed/transfered against the transfer of payment and thereby acquired; the purchaser will ultimately be put in possession and vested with the legal title. There will be extensive formalities. 3. See also tradition, and freehold estate: A freeholder, or one who is in freehold, was therefore not a vassal. This is meaningful to say the least and should in no small part explain the difference in treatment. Another reason would be that real rights are opposable to all and not just to the parties to an act; so there's reason to care. 4. But it does provide hints imho as to which of impulse buy or impulse purchase is the most fitting; or if "I bought a house this afternoon, it was such a good barter, two for one, or about 50c a pound, so much so I bought two!" could be construed as a careless purchasse.


Buy is for a consumer, and purchase is for a customer.


Buy is for final use, and purchase is for reuse.

The purchase of raw materials goes toward buying for ultimate consumption.

  • This needs to be rephrased in standard English.
    – deadrat
    Jun 27, 2015 at 5:13

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