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Abate vs. Bait vs. Bate (Grammar Rules)

Learn the differences of abate, bait, and bate on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

This week's grammar rules post is a little later in the day than usual. That's because I was out of town and decided to wait for a line of storms to abate before heading back home. I guess I took the bait to stay at my mom's house with bated breath for an extra day on Mother's Day weekend.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So let's look at the differences between abate, bait, and bate to make sure we're using them correctly.

Abate vs. Bait vs. Bate (Grammar Rules)

Abate vs. Bait vs. Bate

Abate is a verb that can mean to put an end to something, cause something to become less intense or widespread, and/or deduct something. So when I mentioned waiting for the storms to abate above, I mean that I was waiting for the storms to end (or at least become less intense) before traveling down Interstate 75 from Ohio to Georgia. I've hydroplaned before and have no wish to do so again.

(Writing Mistakes Writers Make.)

Bait, on the other hand, can be a noun or verb. As a noun, it's usually referring to food used to lure or entice fish or other animals as prey. However, bait can also be used as a metaphor to lure people or animals for other purposes as well. For instance, the term "bait and switch" is a sales and advertising technique in which a business promotes one item at a low price (or free sample) to get customers to buy another item or items. As a verb, bait can be used to describe the process of preparing the bait to then lure the fish or animals (or people). Finally, bait can also be used to describe the to process of harassing, annoying, and/or taunting someone else, usually with the goal of starting a fight or argument.

Bate is a verb that can mean to deduct something, cause something to become less intense or widespread, and/or restrain something. If you're experiencing deja vu, then re-read the explanation of abate above. In fact, Robert Hartwell Fiske's The Dictionary of Disagreeable English says, "To bate is to abate..." So they're basically the same, though most people tend to use the word bate most commonly in the phrase "with bated breath." However, people could definitely use bate as a verb in other ways too. There's no good reason that the use of bate should abate, though perhaps that would lead to the bating of abate usage.

Make sense?

Here are a few examples:

Correct: We waited for the crowd to abate before going to shop, so we wouldn't have to wait in line.
Incorrect: We waited for the crowd to bait before going to shop, so we wouldn't have to wait in line.
Correct: We waited for the crowd to bate before going to shop, so we wouldn't have to wait in line.

Correct: The fish took the bait, which was a worm.
Incorrect: The fish took the abate, which was a worm.
Incorrect: The fish took the bate, which was a worm.

Correct: I paid a lot of money for these tickets, so don't try to bate my excitement.
Correct: I paid a lot of money for these tickets, so don't try to abate my excitement.
Incorrect: I paid a lot of money for these tickets, so don't try to bait my excitement.

Remember that abate and bate both basically mean the same thing: to reduce the intensity of and/or deduct something (or even outright end it). Meanwhile, bait is a verb or noun that's used to lure something or someone as if it's prey, whether that's as dinner or a customer.

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