Bale vs. Bail – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 16, 2017/ Uncategorized

bale versus bail

What’s the Difference Between Bale and Bail?

Bale and bail are homophones, which means that they sound exactly alike but have different meanings and spellings. Despite having the same pronunciation, they are very different words and cannot be used interchangeably.

Bale is related to a group of something such as pieces of hay or cotton that are tightly bound together. It can be either a noun or a verb.

  • The farm produced many bales of hay for their horses to eat over the winter. (noun)

Bail has three primary meanings, all of which relate to the word remove. Bail can mean to pay money to temporarily remove someone from jail, to remove water from a boat, or to remove oneself from a responsibility or obligation.

  • The ship would sink if the sailors couldn’t bail the water out fast enough.

The common mistake with these two words is to spell bail as bale or vice versa. Let’s review a few ways to use these words.

Using Bale in a Sentence

When to use bale: Bale can be either a noun or a verb.

As a noun, bale means a bundle of something tied with a rope.

The verb bale is simply to make a bale. Usually we use bale with the words hay or cotton. However, it is possible to use it with other multiple small or separate items that are being bound together.

For example,

  • We must put the cotton into bales to prepare it for sale. (noun)
  • Baling the hay took more time and energy than the new farmhand had expected. (verb)

There aren’t any notable idioms using bale. However, people may use the verb pick with bale, as in pick a bale of cotton. This is because there is a popular folk song that has this line. It is most common to use this word in the context of agriculture.

Using Bail in a Sentence

When to use bail: There are three meanings of bail. The first can be either a noun or a verb, and it is about allowing the release of a person in jail until trial.

The noun is the amount of money set by a judge to allow a prisoner to leave jail while awaiting trial. The verb is to pay the bail.

  • The accused murderer is very rich, so the bail is $1,000,000.

The second meaning is a verb. It is to use a bucket to dump water out of a ship.

  • The boat has a leak! Quick, find a bucket to bail out the boat!

The third and final meaning is a verb as well. It means to fail to do something you committed to doing.

  • Don’t invite Stacey to the party. She always says she’ll come, but bails at the last minute.

There are some common collocations with bail:

  • to set bail: when a judge declares the monetary amount necessary for a prisoner to pay
    • The judge thought there was a low risk that the person would try to run away, so she set bail at only $500.
  • to bail on someone: to make plans with someone and then cancel
    • Christopher bailed on us last night. He told us he would come to dinner with us but he never came.
  • to bail out someone: to pay bail for someone
    • The family paid to bail their son out from jail.
  • to jump bail: to run away after being released from jail on bail
    • The man was innocent, but he jumped bail anyway. He was convinced the judge would find him guilty.

Bail is more common than bale. It appears frequently in news stories about people who have been arrested. People often use it in conversation about a friend who didn’t come to an event that they said they would.

Remembering Bale vs. Bail

There is an easy way to remember the difference between these two words.

Bail ends with the letters ail. It is also related to the word jail, since a person who needs bail gets released from jail. Additionally, it has a connection with the word pail, since people use a pail to bail out a sinking ship.

Finally, bail also has a connection with the word ail, meaning to be sick. It is possible a person bailed on his or her friends because of an illness. Therefore, remembering these related words with the same ending can help you always know when to use bail.

Another helpful way to remember these is that bale ends with ale. Ale is a type of beer. Beer is made from grains such as barley. Barley is a type of grass, like hay. Hay is often made into bales. This second method is a little longer to remember, but can serve as a useful complement to the mnemonic device for bail.

Outside Examples

  • In this March 12, 2015, file photo, plastic trash is compacted into bales ready for further processing at the waste processing dump on the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus. –Chicago Tribune
  • The soundtrack for all this Sunday morning splendor was the jovial banging of percussion instruments and jingle-jangle of ankle bells as a motley party marched uphill to the straw-bale house that composer Lou Harrison had built toward the end of his life. –LA Times
  • A judge denied bail for the Spanish football federation president, his son and a federation vice president arrested in an anti-corruption probe after taking their testimony on Thursday. –USA Today
  • Harris County’s long-trumpeted new system for setting bail for people awaiting trial will be up and running by the end of July, nearly a month later than the July 1 effective date the county had promised a federal judge, officials said Monday. –Houston Chronicle

Quiz: Bail vs. Bale

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either bail or bale.

  • The prisoner didn’t have enough money to make ________.
  • The boat continued to fill with water despite all the people trying to ___________ it out.
  • Beautiful _______________ of hay scattered the farm fields throughout the countryside.
  • Come on! You have to come to the party. You promised me that you would. Don’t __________ on me now.
  • How many __________ of cotton can one person pick in a day?

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use bale or bail? When speaking, both words have the same pronunciation, so you do not have to worry about whether you are using the right one. In writing, however, make sure to use the correct spelling.

  • Bale means a bundle of hay, cotton, or other group of items compacted and tied together.
  • Bail refers to money to release someone from jail, an action to remove water from a boat, or canceling previously made plans.

Both words can act as nouns and verbs, but their meanings are unrelated.


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