Was the ‑e at the end of bye deliberately added in order to distinguish it from the word by?

Did they do that so that that way, even though the two words sound the same, they look different when written and you’d be able to tell which is which when you read them?

Is that kind of thing something that English has done in the past, changed their spellings so that words that sounds alike are written differently?

  • It would help if you gave some more background to this question - the different usage of 'by' and 'bye' for example.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 18:46
  • Which word spelled this way are you talking about? There are three different etymologies you could be asking about here.
    – Laurel
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 18:51
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    I think MariLouA's answer to What is the Origin of the word Goodbye should make the reason sufficiently obvious. It appears that the "be with ye part" of "god be with ye" was contracted to b'ye.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 18:57
  • @Tonepoet You are likely correct, but now what do I do now that I’ve gone and given a long answer with new information and focus, with an important teaching point that specifically addresses this poster’s specific question about whether English deliberately spells two same-sounding words differently so that one can tell them apart in writing?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 19:12
  • 1
    @tchrist Transfer it to the original thread. Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


There are several different words spelled bye — and, for that matter, also several different words all spelled by. I will therefore for the moment assume that you are referring to the most frequently encountered bye, not the others.

That’s the interjection bye, which is simply a clipping of the longer goodbye. The OED provides earlier spellings of the word bye as:

Forms: 16 b'w'y', 16–17 b'y, 17 b'wye, 17 by'e, 17– bye, 19– 'bye.

(Those numbers represent the first two digits of a four-digit year.)

There you can see that the earlier writers were conscious of the word’s origin in the longer phrase be with ye. It was clipped from God be with ye, which is a frozen phrase that, being written in the “third-person imperative” style of ancient benedictions and maledictions, uses the modally marked form sometimes called the present subjunctive or bare infinitive. We would today phrase something like that as “May God be with you.”

The longer form, goodbye, has been historically spelled in nearly as many ways as there were writers. :)


  • α. 15 god be wy you, 15–16 godbwy, 15–16 godbwye, 16 godb'w', 16 godb'w'y, 16 godb'wy, 16 godb'w'y', 16 godb'w'you, 16 goodb'wy, 16–17 godb'w'e, 16–17 godb'w'ye, 17 goodbwi't'ye, 17 goodb'w'y', 17 goodb'w'ye.

  • β. 15 god boye ye, 15 god boye yee, 15–16 godboye, 15–16 godbuoy, 15–16 godbuoye, 15–16 godbuy', 15–16 godbu'y, 15–16 godbuy, 15–16 godbu'ye, 16 godbo'y, 16 god b'oy you, 16 godb'uy, 16 god, buy, 16 godbuy'ye, 16 god buy ye, 16 god bu'y you, 16 god buy you, 16 godb'y, 16 god'b'y, 16 godb'ye, 16 god b'y you, 16 good, buy, 16 goodbuy'ye, 16–17 goodbuy, 16– goodby, 17– goodbye, 18 gudebye (Sc.), 19– guidbye (Sc.).

Origin: Probably formed within English, by compounding.

Etymons: English God be with ye, good adj.

Etymology: Probably shortened partly < God be with you, and partly < God be with ye (see god n. and int. Phrases 1c(a)(ii), and the note below), with substitution of good adj. for god n. as the first element, probably by association with other greeting formulae, e.g. good day n., good day int., goodnight n., goodnight int.

God be with you is attested as a parting valediction from at least the late 15th cent., God be with ye from at least the second half of the 16th cent.

The written record therefore shows that even though a great many spellings of (good)bye have been seen historically, at no point was there any confusion with the completely different word by.

Important Teaching Point

The take-home lesson from this that may not be obvious to learners is that English has seldom if ever deliberately chosen different ways to write two distinct words that just happen to be homophones (pronounced the same way).

The spellings and meanings of English words each have their own long and notably distinct histories, most of them having gone their own separate ways at least five hundred years ago.

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    English has seldom if ever deliberately chosen different ways to write two distinct words that just happen to be homophones : Important indeed! Was it put there to distinguish it from 'by' - English never developed that way, nor have any other "organic" languages, AFAIK. Such a notion would be applicable only if someone was going to design a new language, for example a programming language or some sort of new 'universal language' etc. There is no committee that decided to add an e to avoid confusion.
    – Vector
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 20:04
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    Aren't we bothering to maintain standards ('avoid mediocrity' was, I believe, the term you used) by discouraging questions lacking reasonable research any more? Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 22:40
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    @EdwinAshworth I felt that the underlying question being asked here was different enough by being more interesting and educational than the currently marked duplicate addresses that I thought it deserved its own answer. I have now edited the question to make it no longer even arguably a duplicate.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 22:51
  • That fits much better with my views on how the site should be run. I've reversed the downvote now by means of a transformation-and-inverse edit. Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 23:24
  • @Vector There do exist a few modern coinages that do appear to change the spelling slightly to produce a same-sounding word with a distinctive meaning. For example, a byte not a bite for the computing term as “a deliberate respelling of bite to avoid accidental mutation to bit. Similarly we have “krab with a k” for surimi, so krab meaning imitation crab. Mostly it’s a marketing gizmo.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 1:24

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