Buy, By, and Bye

Homophones That Are Sometimes Confused

buy by bye
The children stood by the window and waved bye.

Cultura RM Exclusive/Luc Beziat/Getty Images

The words buy, by, and bye are homophones -- words that have the same sound when spoken aloud, but which have different meanings. They're not as likely to be confused as other homophone sets such as 'they're, their, and there,' but as is the case with all homophones, confusion is possible.

Here are brief definitions for each:

  • The verb 'buy' means to purchase.
  • The preposition 'by' has several meanings, including near, through, past, and on behalf of.
  • The interjection 'bye' (or bye-bye) is a shorter form of goodbye.

Examples of Buy, By, and Bye

  • When you buy a candy bar, you expect it to contain sugar.
  • "The two of them were living now about two miles down the highway on a piece of land that the government had helped them to buy and in a brick duplex bungalow that the government had helped to build and pay for."
    (Flannery O'Connor, Greenleaf. The Kenyon Review, 1957) .
  • Quite by chance, I found an old photograph of my grandfather, posing by the old mill pond.
  • "Her friends came by. It was an effort to make small talk. How could they know? How could they know what it was like?"
    (Thom Jones, I Want to Live! Harper's, 1993)
  • "Bye," said the car-hop, opening a heart-shaped pocket over her heart and dropping the tip courteously within."
    (Eudora Welty, The Hitch-Hikers. The Southern Review, 1940)

Idiom Alerts for Buy, By, and Bye

The expression 'to buy into (something)' means to express support for a plan or to believe something that someone says: "Employees reflect the company's values. Just ask Costco's president, Jim Sinegal. He knows that if he doesn't buy into the brand, and if he doesn't teach his team how to buy into it, then his managers won't, either..."

(Scott Deming, The Brand Who Cried Wolf. Wiley, 2007)

The expression 'by and by' means after a certain period of time:
"So, by and by, I, too, fall down in the snow, and there is no one to help me up. I must get up by myself. And always do I get up by myself, and help them up, and make the dogs go on.
(Jack London, The Sun-Dog Trail. Harper's, 1906)

The expression 'by the by' (also by the bye and by the way) means incidentally or beside the point: "The President was in another good mood, flush from signing a new law which, he hoped, would solve a major problem for his country, and by the by make his reelection chances look rosy."
(Tom Clancy, Debt of Honor. Putnam, 1994) 

Practice Exercises for Buy, By and Bye

(a) You can _____ a book, but you can't _____ intelligence.

(b) "_____," Jessica said, and then she disappeared into the crowd.

(c) _____ this afternoon, the crime scene will be totally fenced in with barbed wire.

Answers to Practice Exercises:

(a) You can buy a book, but you can't buy intelligence.

(b) "Bye," Jessica said, and then she disappeared into the crowd.

(c) By this afternoon, the crime scene will be totally fenced in with barbed wire.