Bald, balled or bawled

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Bald, balled and bawled are three commonly confused words that are pronounced in the same way when spoken aloud but are spelled differently and have different meanings, which makes them homophones. Homophones exist because of our ever-changing English language, and are a challenge for those who wish to learn to speak English. The way the spelling and definitions differ can be confusing when attempting to learn vocabulary correctly. Proper pronunciation of spoken English may help the listener distinguish between homophones; the words affect-effect are a good example, but the words to, too and two are indistinguishable from each other. Pronunciation is usually more ambiguous, as English pronunciation may vary according to dialect, and English spelling is constantly evolving. Pronunciation may change even though the spelling doesn’t, producing two words that are pronounced in the same manner but have different meanings such as night and knight. Phonological spelling and spelling rules do not always work, and most people avoid misspelling by studying vocabulary words from spelling lists, enhancing their literacy skills through spelling practice. English words are also spelled according to their etymologies rather than their sound. For instance, the word threw is derived from the Old English word thrawan, and the word through came from the Old English word thurh. Homophones are confusing words and are commonly misspelled words because of the confusion that arises from words that are pronounced alike but have very different usage and etymology. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake, so do not rely on spell check but instead, learn to spell. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a homophone in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. We will examine the definitions of the three words bald, balled and bawled, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Bald is an adjective that describes someone who is hairless, an animal that is furless, a bird that is featherless, or a land feature that is devoid of vegetation. Bald is also used to describe tires with worn-down tread. The word bald is derived from the Old English word ballede.

Balled is the past tense of the verb ball, which means to squeeze something into the shape of a ball such as a fist or napkin. Balled is also a vulgar slang term in North America which means to have sexual relations. Related words are the verbs ball, balls, balling. The word balled, used as a verb, first appeared in the mid-1600s.

Bawled is the past tense of the verb bawl, meaning to cry out, yell, or weep in a noisy fashion. Related verbs are bawl, bawls, bawling. The word bawl is derived from the Norse word baula, which means to make a noise like a cow.


Police are looking for a ‘chubby bald man’ who tried to snatch two teenage boys by luring them into his car. (The Daily Mail)

Necropsy results from a dead bald eagle found near Lower McDonald Creek in February in Glacier National Park have determined the bird died of lead poisoning. (The Daily Inter Lake)

Wildwood Christmas Tree Farm’s selection includes cut or balled white pine, Canadian hemlock, Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce, or pre-cut Fraser Fir, Turkish/Nordmann Fir and Canaan Fir trees. (The Tullahoma News)

I was wearing my usual uniform of old jeans and black sneakers; my small, cold hands were balled in the pockets of my thrift-shop Army jacket.  (Rolling Stone Magazine)

Three-year-old Manja bawled shrilly in the heat of early summer. (The Deccan Herald)

“I will certainly cry if Captain America dies and I bawled when Tom Holland’s Spider-Man got snapped — he’s just a baby!” she says. (The Hollywood Reporter)