What's the Difference Between 'Baited' and 'Bated'?

Commonly Confused Words

Fisherman placing bait on a hook.

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The words baited and bated are homophones, which means they sound alike but have different meanings.

Baited is the past form of the verb bait, which means to tease, harass, or put food (or bait) in a trap. A hook, witness, or animal is baited (lured, enticed, tempted).

The word bated is a clipped form of the past tense of the verb abate, which means to reduce or restrain. Breath is bated.

Examples of Usage

  • It’s always easiest to catch birds with baited traps at times of the year when there is little food available.
  • "To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to — the lady's not for turning." (British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 1980)
  • "The word baited is sometimes incorrectly substituted for the etymologically correct but unfamiliar word bated ('abated; suspended') in the expression bated breath." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2000)
  • "What's the basis of bated, which we never hear in the present tense? It is a clip of abate, from the Old French abattre, 'to beat down,' and now it means 'to moderate, subside, reduce, ebb.' In connection with breathing, it means 'shorten' or 'hold.' When you abate your breath, you hold it in anticipation of some breathtaking event.
    "The coiner was Shakespeare in his 1596 Merchant of Venice, in which Shylock says to Antonio, 'Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,/With bated breath and whispering humbleness,/Say this:/Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last?'" (William Safire, "Bated Breath." The New York Times, May 5, 2002)

Practice Exercise

(a) I'm hoping with crossed fingers and _____ breath that gas prices will soon go down.
(b) Holding a line with a _____ hook, I stood on rocks in the waist-deep water.

Answers to Practice Exercises

(a) I'm hoping with crossed fingers and bated breath that gas prices will soon go down.
(b) Holding a line with a baited hook, I stood on rocks in the waist-deep water.