Hay and Hey

Commonly Confused Words

Hay and Hey
Lara Bergen, Sophie the Zillionaire (Scholastic, 2011). (Getty Images)

Hay and hey are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun hay refers to grass that has been cut and dried, usually for use as food for animals. As a verb, hay means to cut and store hay or to feed (animals) with hay. Hay is also a slang term for bed. (See the Idiom Alert below.)

The exclamation hey is used to express surprise, delight, confusion, or anger. Hey is also used (like hello or hi) as a salutation to greet a person, attract someone's attention, or signal recognition.

Examples

  • "All three of us stacked the hay. I was surprised how much of the hay Mama moved. She was little, but she was pretty strong when it came to tossing hay off the truck or dragging it to where it needed stacking in the barn."
    (Bill Wallace, Beauty. Minstrel, 1989)
     
  • "You girls better hit the hay early tonight. We've got to be out of here by six in the morning."
    (Melody Carlson, Face the Music. Multnomah, 2004)
     
  • "I started walking to the Faculty of Music and Dance and met Bernie Okpoku, the director of dance.

    "'Hey, Maya, you finally decided to come home?'"
    (Maya Angeou, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes. Random House, 1986)
     
  • "As I walked toward the Vuosos', Melina came out of her house to get the mail. She was wearing green doctor pants, flip-flops, and a red hooded sweatshirt stretched tight across her stomach. 'Hey,' she said. Melina always said hey instead of hi.

    "'Hey,' I said back, wishing I could be a Texan like her."
    (Alicia Erian, Towelhead. Simon & Schuster, 2005)
     
  • "Hey there, Haley, he says.

    "Hey Daddy. I sit on a hay bale and pick out a piece of straw to hold between my two front teeth. The barn smells of horse manure and dry wood and hay."
    (Suzanne Kingsbury, The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me. Scribner, 2002)
     

Idiom Alerts: Hit the Hay and Make Hay

  • "I was getting tired, and my mind always played tricks on me when I got tired. 'I think we better hit the hay,' I told him.

    "'Hit the what?' he asked in confusion.

    "'Hit the hay. It means "go to bed,"' I told him. I thought everyone used that expression."
    (Fred E. Katz, Birthday Cake and I Scream. Thomas Nelson, 1996)
  • "[The idiomatic expression] make hay while the sun shines [means to] take advantage of favorable circumstances, as in 'Car sales have finally improved so we're making hay while the sun shines.' This expression alludes to optimum dry weather for cutting grass. [Early 1500s]"
    (Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

    "You need to be lucky and adventurous to see a pika in Yosemite. . . . Any pika you do see is probably making hay while the sun shines. If you sit still long enough, you may see one busily scampering back and forth between its plants and its den."
    (Steven P. Medley, The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite National Park, 2012)
     

Practice

(a) "Always a night person, I was never ready for bed when the rest of the population hit the _____."
(Etta Koch, Lizards on the Mantel, Burros at the Door: A Big Bend Memoir. University of Texas Press, 1999)

(b) "'_____ look at this,' said Neet, picking up a large cream-colored envelope."
(Anna Kemp, The Great Brain Robbery. Simon and Schuster, 2013)

(c) "_____ Jude, don't make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better."
(John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1968)

(d) "The lawn had been mown primarily for croquet games and had emitted a different aroma in each month of summer—that of a spicy fresh salad in June, of a well's deep walls in July, and of dry _____ in August, with scuffed patches of earth around the improvised soccer goals, and oil-stains where the children had worked on their bicycles."
(John Updike, "Wildlife." The Afterlife and Other Stories.

Knopf, 1994)

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Answers to Practice Exercises: Hay and Hey

(a) "Always a night person, I was never ready for bed when the rest of the population hit the hay."
(Etta Koch, Lizards on the Mantel, Burros at the Door: A Big Bend Memoir. University of Texas Press, 1999)

(b) "'Hey look at this,' said Neet, picking up a large cream-colored envelope."
(Anna Kemp, The Great Brain Robbery. Simon and Schuster, 2013)

(c) "Hey Jude, don't make it bad.


Take a sad song and make it better."
(John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1968)

(d) "The lawn had been mown primarily for croquet games and had emitted a different aroma in each month of summer—that of a spicy fresh salad in June, of a well's deep walls in July, and of dry hay in August, with scuffed patches of earth around the improvised soccer goals, and oil-stains where the children had worked on their bicycles."
(John Updike, "Wildlife." The Afterlife and Other Stories. Knopf, 1994)

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs