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Is Boughten a Word?

Chaucer used boughten in "Troilus and Criseyde," but that doesn't mean it's a word you should use today. Here's the deal on bought versus boughten.

By
Mignon Fogarty,

Is boughten a word?

This week, a friend who goes by Lucky Strike on Twitter asked me about the word boughten. LuckyStrike’s English teacher said boughten can be used in passive sentences such as “This is something they have boughten me before.” And although you can say that, and in some dialects people do say it, it’s definitely not Standard English.

Boughten May Have Been More Common in the Past

Boughten was sometimes used in the past, but today it’s only used in certain dialects (Northern and North Midland) or sometimes poetically. Other than that, it’s considered wrong. 

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage calls boughten “rustic and uneducated.” The editors also have an unusually hard time pinning down boughten’s past use. Usually they’re great at describing how words were used in the past, but here, they say they couldn’t find significant proof that it was widely used in the past even though some sources say that it was.

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Use Bought Instead of Boughten as a Past Participle

Bought is the standard past participle of the verb buy, so to fix LuckyStrike’s sentence, you’d say, “This is something they have bought me before.”

Use Store-Bought Instead of Boughten as an Adjective

Sometimes people also use boughten as an adjective to describe something they got at the store as opposed to something they made at home. In that case, store-bought is a better choice: I’ll bring a store-bought cake.

-En Participles Were More Common in the Past

Although I don’t feel confident that boughten was ever common in American English, I did find some interesting examples of other archaic -en participles in old British English. Mark Spurlock pointed me to an example of Chaucer using boughten, and I found a book that said Shakespeare liked to use -en participles. For example, he used thoughten, sweaten, and moulten (to describe a bird that had moulted). And the Oxford English Dictionary compares boughten to foughten, which they list as an obscure and rare form of fought that usually shows up in the phrase foughten fields. For example, their most recent citation is from J.G. Edwards in 1866, and it reads “You will doubtless live to see…many foughten fields.”

-En Adjectives in Set Phrases

Finally, archaic words often survive longer when they are in set phrases. For example, we only use bated in the set phrase bated breath where it means “abated,” and this has happened a few times for adjectives that end in -en. In his World Wide Words entry on boughten, Michael Quinion points to set phrases such as graven images and misshapen bodies.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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