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Buy and Purchase

Buy and Purchase
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This week we answer a question from Julio in Peru. He writes:


I would like to know the difference between BUY and PURCHASE and when to use each of them. -- Julio, Lima, Peru.


Dear Julio,

Thanks for asking about these words. As you know, "buy" and "purchase" can be used in similar sentences. They can both be used either as a noun or a verb.

One difference between them is how formal they sound. Compare the following sentences. Put "buy" or "purchase" in the space.

I would like to ______ a new home.

She wants to _____ a hamburger.

Like most English speakers, I would say "purchase" for the home and "buy" for the hamburger. You probably wonder, why does English have two words with exactly the same meaning?

History of the words

We can understand this better with a little history. English developed from the languages of Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. Words from that time are what we call Anglo-Saxon. In the year 1066, William the Conqueror and his forces began to take over England. William was from Normandy, in France. For the next 300 years, everyone in English courts and in government spoke French. English was a language for everyday use.

As a result, French had a great effect on the English language: about 10,000 French words were added to English. We still use many of them today. As you might suspect, English speakers use the French words for more formal situations and the Anglo-Saxon words for common ideas and things.

One way you can tell the difference between the French words and the Anglo-Saxon words is their length. Anglo-Saxon words, like “buy,” are often short, while “purchase” and other French words are longer.


Julio asked how to use "buy" and "purchase." We usually use "buy" as a verb. For example,

I will buy food for the party.

It is not so common to see "buy" as a noun, but you do find it in cases like this:

The police stopped a drug buy on the street.


We often use the verb "purchase" for when legal documents are involved, such as in:

The government purchased a new contract for 1,000 airplanes.

And you should use "purchase" when you need a noun form, as in:

You made a smart purchase when you bought gas before the price went up.

In summary, try to use "buy" for simple actions, and "purchase" for more formal exchanges of money for goods.

And now, I will ask you to do something. Please send your questions about English to us by email:

And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

formaladj. related to serious or official speech and writing

hamburgern. a flat, usually round piece of ground beef that is cooked and served usually in a roll or bun

conquerorn. a person who takes control of a country or city through the use of force

Anglo-Saxonn. the language of the Anglo-Saxons

summary n. a brief statement of the main points of something

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