Difference Between “Buy” And “Purchase” (8 Helpful Examples)

When talking about shopping, the two words that often come up are “buy” and “purchase”. But don’t they mean the same thing?

In this article, we’ll put to bed any confusion about how buying is different from purchasing it.

What Is The Difference Between “Buy” And “Purchase”?

Most of the time, “buy” and “purchase” can be used interchangeably. Even in most dictionaries, they have similar definitions. However, for economists, “buy” is for small things like your weekly shopping, whereas “purchase” is for large contracts or orders of something.

What Is The Difference Between "Buy" And "Purchase"?

But what do each of the words mean? What are their etymologies? Is the answer quite as straightforward as I’m making it sound?

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What Do The Dictionaries Say About The Difference Between Buy And Purchase?

The first place where we should look is the dictionary.

According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, to buy something means to obtain something by paying money for it.

And also according to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, to purchase something is to buy it.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed something, that these two definitions are remarkably similar to each other. They are practically the same definition just rephrased differently.

Remember though, this is from a general dictionary. And how an economist might define a word is slightly different to how everyday folk will define it.


What Does It Mean To Buy?

Let’s start by looking at buying.

Most of us buy things most of the time. If you go into a supermarket to do your weekly shopping or pick up an ice cream on the beach, you have participated in the act of “buying”.

It’s a rather easy concept to grasp. You have money but want something. Someone else has that something but wants money. So, in exchange for the money you have, you get the product you want.

This very simple idea is the basic underlying concept of economics. And it’s worked for a long time.

4 Example Sentences With “Buy”

  1. “I went into the shop yesterday to buy a loaf of bread, and I ended up walking out with a new ironing board. It’s incredible what in-shop advertising can do to you”

  2. “Good afternoon, I would like to buy a loaf of that delicious olive bread that I had last time. Also, do you sell any kind of butter that I would be able to spread on it?”

  3. “How many apples would you like to buy? If you’re making a pie, I would recommend getting five big ones”

  4. “I need to buy a dress for the party tonight. I want a black one that reaches the floor”


What Does It Mean To Purchase?

For most of us, the words “buy” and “purchase” are the same thing. But, for an economist, a “purchase” is usually much bigger than a “buy”.

Usually, it’s not normal people who “purchase” things, but it’s companies who purchase large quantities of supplies to make their products with, or governments purchasing equipment so they better build their country.

However, it is possible for normal people to make purchases. If you spend money to own your own home, that would qualify as a “purchase”.

However, there is some debate about how much money someone has to spend for it to qualify as a “purchase” rather than a “buy”.

4 Example Sentences With “Purchase”

  1. “The UK government has purchased 1 millions doses of the Covid Vaccine from Johnson and Johnson. This could be the first step out of the pandemic world, and into a better one”

  2. “Kraft purchased 4 billion gallons of milk from farmers across America. However, due to a sharp rise in veganism, many have found that a lot of milk has either been made into cheese or wasted”

  3. “The American government has purchased Greenland. Some said it would never happen, but it now has. Greenland is officially the 51st State”

  4. “The state of New York has purchased 1000 litres of clean water after their filtration system got damaged in a terrorist attack”.

The Etymologies Of Buy And Purchase

As well as the dictionary, it may also be wise to look at the etymologies of each word, to figure out what its origin says it means.

“Buy” is from the Old English “bycgan”, meaning to get by paying for. This comes from the Proto-Germanic “Bugjan”, which has a similar definition.

“Purchase” is from the 1300s word “purchasen” meaning to acquire. Before that, it was the Anglo-French “purchaser” meaning to go after. And before that, it was the Old French “Porchacier”, meaning to search for.

What, According To The Etymologies Is The Difference Between Buy And Purchase?

So, based upon the etymologies, what is the difference between “buy” and “purchase”.

Well, when you buy something, you just get it. You go to the shop, pay your money, and just walk out with it.

However, to purchase something means you have to search for it.

When you buy an ice cream, you can just go into a shop and pick a flavour within a minute. But when you purchase a house, it can take months or years to search for the right house for you.

The Difference Between Buy And Purchase Is Nuanced And Blurred

As we mentioned earlier, the distinction between “buy” and “purchase” has a flaw. “Large” can be a subjective term.

People with lots of money can afford a lot more than the rest of us. For me, a house would be a “purchase” as I would have to spend a few decades saving up enough money.

However, for someone like Jeff Bezos, he could probably buy a house within minutes, so for him, it would be more of a “buy”.

Even economists don’t always agree on when “buy” becomes “purchase”.


And there we have everything you could want to know about the differences between buy and purchase. In usual, everyday language, they are the same thing. But in economics, “buy” is for the small stuff but “purchase” is for the larger things.

Their etymologies would also suggest that a “purchase” needs to be sought after. However, what is a “buy” to one person might be a “purchase” to another.

Hopefully, now you have a slightly better idea of what these two words mean and next time you hear an economist talking, you’ll have a better idea of what they’re saying.

But, when you talk to your friends, you don’t need to worry too much about the differences between the two.