bait vs. bate

What is the difference between bait and bate?

Bait refers to food or other lures used to trap or catch an animal (or, by extension, a temptation, enticement, or allurement). It can be used as a noun, referring to the lure itself, or as a verb, referring to the act of using a lure, temptation, or enticement. For example:
  • “The worms haven’t been working, so I’m going to try a different bait.”
  • “I tried to draw him into the argument by insulting him, but he didn’t take the bait.”
  • “We baited the fly trap with honey.”
  • “They tried baiting me into staying with a pay raise, but my mind was made up.”
Bate is an uncommon term that has largely been replaced by abate, meaning “to lessen, diminish, moderate, restrain, or take away from.” However, bate is still preserved in modern English in the idiomatic phrase “with bated breath,” which means “nervously, excitedly, or anxiously, as if holding one’s breath.” For example:
  • “We waited with bated breath while they announced the results of the competition.”
Because bate is so uncommon in all other usages, it is a frequent mistake to write “with baited breath.” Just be sure to remember than one can only have “bated breath,” while we use bait in all other circumstances.
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