Bail and Bale

Commonly Confused Words

bail and bale
If you're not talking about a large bundle (like this bale of hay), the spelling you want is probably b-a-i-l. (Diego Eidelman/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Bail and bale are homophones: the words sound the same but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun bail refers to money used to arrange the temporary release of a person awaiting a court trial. As a verb, bail means to set free an accused person through payment of bail, or to help out an individual or organization that's having financial problems. The verb bail also means to scoop water out of a boat or to run away from a difficult situation.

The noun bale refers to a large bundle, usually one that has been tightly wrapped and bound. As a verb, bale means to press (something) together and wrap it into a tight bundle.

Examples

  • Old Jake walked five miles to the courthouse to post bail for his grandson.
  • "The mystery writer Dashiell Hammett refused to turn over to the Justice Department a list of the people who had put up bail for [Gus] Hall—and went to jail himself."
    (Victor Navasky, "My Hunt for Moscow Gold." The New York Times, October 21, 2000)
  • Against the opposition of most Americans, the president decided to bail out his friends on Wall Street.
  • The pilot asked the crew members whether they wanted to bail out or ride the plane down into the cornfield.
  • Haley lifted a bale of hay and placed it in the corner with the others.

 

Idiom Alerts

  • Bail (Someone) out
    The expression to bail (somebody) out means to rescue a person from a difficult situation.
    "I had no money to pay the bills much less for shopping. . . . Eventually my parents would have to be told, but I couldn't face my mother's knowing scorn, and I wasn't about to let my father bail me out and potentially go down the drain with me."
    (Linda Francis Lee, The Devil in the Junior League. St. Martin's Press, 2006)
     
  • Bail on (Someone)
    The expression to bail on (someone or something) means to break off a relationship or abandon a person or thing. 
    "Robert can barely read or write, one of many reasons he bailed on school like his daddy bailed on him."
    (Patrick Jones, Chasing Tail Lights. Walker and Company, 2007)


Practice

(a) Throughout the storm, the fishermen _____ frantically, cast out hooks, give their lines a jerk, and haul in more fish from the sea.


(b) The judge decided that the man's _____ was excessive and reduced it by half.

(c) One _____ of straw will cover an average of 900 square feet.

(d) The detective could have stayed with the department once he'd recovered from his gunshot wounds, but he chose to _____.

 

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs
 

Answers to Practice Exercises: Bail and Bale

(a) Throughout the storm, the fishermen bail frantically, cast out hooks, give their lines a jerk, and haul in more fish from the sea.

(b) The judge decided that the man's bail was excessive and reduced it by half.

(c) One bale of straw will cover an average of 900 square feet.

(d) The detective could have stayed with the department once he'd recovered from his gunshot wounds, but he chose to bail.

 

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words