Bail vs. Bale – Difference, Meaning & Spelling

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

I bet you’ve been wrongly using the words “bale” and “bail” your whole life. Most people have. And honestly, these are two terms I often have to double-check myself when using. They sound the same and have similar meanings in specific contexts, but you must be careful because they also have secondary meanings. Stick with me as I explain.

Bail vs. Bale

httpsgrammarist.comspellingbail bale

One is a bundle of something, while the other refers to scooping water from a boat with a bucket. However, they both have second meanings and usages.

What Does Bail Mean?

Firstly, “bail” can be a verb or a noun. As a verb, it means to remove excess water from a boat or to abandon a task or commitment.

The second verb meaning is used to talk about releasing a prisoner. They can be bailed out of jail on a temporary release, or you can bail them out. 

It’s also become a popular verb today to describe being abandoned or to abandon, like bailing on a date.

When used as a noun, “bail” refers to any security given to a prisoner on temporary release to ensure their return to court. Just think of any crime show or movie you’ve ever watched, and someone is released from jail or prison “on bail.”

What Does Bale Mean?

So then we have the word “bale.” Simply put, it’s a noun that we use to describe a large bundle of something, usually hay or cotton, and it’s tightly packed and wrapped for easy storage or moving. It’s like when farmers bundle and stack all their hay for the colder seasons.

Regarding where it came from, “bale” comes from the French word bale, which still means what it does today; a bundle of something.

As a verb, you could use it to describe the process of making a bundle of hay or bale of cotton or whatever. “Can you bale that hay?” Or you could use the past tense verb baling, “I was baling the hay yesterday.”

There’s also a less popular way to use the term, and it’s to describe a group of turtles. When they hatch from their eggs and make their way across the sand to the ocean, you could say it’s a bale of turtles crawling.

Is It Bale of Hay or Bail of Hay?

When talking about a giant block of hay used to feed horses and cattle, you would say bale of hay because bale means a bundle of something.

Is It Cattle Head Bail or Cattle Head Bale?

Although you’ll find several conflicting answers on the internet for this, it’s actually cattle head bail.

Bail Out or Bale Out?

httpsgrammarist.comspellingbail bale 1

Okay, this is far more involved than I had expected. Technically, both are correct. There are certain contexts and audiences that each works better for. But both phrasal verbs bale out and bail out mean to empty something or to throw something out. You can both bail and bale water.

If you had to choose one to be more correct than the other, bail out would be. The term bail derives from the French word bailles, which means to yawn, or loosely translated to expel from. Here are three examples showing how you can use both bale out and bail out.

  • I drove down to the courthouse to bail out my boyfriend.
  • We need to bail out this boat before it sinks.
  • We’re ready to jump! Parachuters, bale out!

Past Tense of Bale

The past tense form of bale is baled.

  • You should have baled that hay.
  • I baled that hay as you asked.

Past Tense of Bail

The past tense form of the word bail is bailed.

  • You can be bailed out of jail when I get paid later this month.
  • I spent all my money and bailed you out of jail!

Or in terms of a leaking boat, you’d say:

  • We’ll sink if we don’t bail out this water right now.
  • We never bailed out the water fast enough, so we sank.

Bale and How to Use It in a Sentence

  • I ordered ten bales of hay for the horses but made a typo and accidentally ordered a hundred bales of hay.
  • My horse loves when I poke sugar cubes in his bale of hay to find them.
  • Don’t worry; the crew baled all the cotton for the winter so we could clean it later.

Bail and How to Use It in a Sentence

  • Don’t you dare bail out your father from jail; he doesn’t deserve it.
  • I bailed out my husband from jail, but he still has a court appearance.
  • Don’t bail on me now, not when I need you in this tough situation!
  • Bail out this water before the boat sinks to the bottom, and we all die!

Bale or Bail: It’s Up to You

So, think carefully before using the words bale or bail in writing, as both have multiple meanings and usages. The way I remember the difference is by thinking of the word bail and how its spelling is like jail, with just the first letter changed.

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