• 3-minute read
  • 28th April 2020

Word Choice: Boy vs. Buoy

Today, we’re looking at the words “boy” and “buoy.” These words can be confusing, especially if you’re not used to American English. To make sure you can use them correctly in your writing, take a look at our guide below.

Boy (A Young Male)

“Boy” is a noun that means “a male child or youth.” It can refer to any male who isn’t an adult yet. For example, we could say:

Is the baby a boy or a girl?

Teenage boys can be a bit of a handful.

Informally, we can also use it to refer to men in general. When used like this, it often suggests the men in question are behaving immaturely:

He’s going for a night out with the boys.

Vinnie Jones was one of the “bad boys” of soccer.

In addition, some people use the interjection “oh, boy!” to express delight or surprise, though this isn’t as common as it used to be.

Finally, many people use “boy” to refer to male animals, especially their pets. And that sounds like a good excuse for a dog meme!

Who's a good boy?
Who’s a good boy? You are! You’re a good boy!
(Photo: Andrea Arden/flickr)

Buoy (A Floating Marker)

A “buoy” is a brightly colored marker that floats on water, often at sea.

Buoys work as markers to help ships’ navigators and other people using the water. They can mark out lots of things, including shipping routes, hazards under the water, or safe areas for swimming. For instance:

They’ve used a buoy to mark the location of the sunken wreck.

Don’t swim out past the buoys.

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Buoy” is also a verb, meaning “keep (something) afloat,” either literally or figuratively. Take a look at an example of each below:

They were buoyed up by the water as they swam.

Winning a game really buoys up their team spirit.

This is related to the adjective “buoyant,” which means “able to stay afloat”:

Life jackets are made to be buoyant.

The noun “buoyancy,” meanwhile, refers to the ability to float or the upward force exerted by a fluid to keep something afloat.

Pronunciation: Boy vs. Buoy

If you’ve grown up in the USA, you may be wondering why we’re discussing these words together. After all, “boy” is pronounced to rhyme with “toy,” while “buoy” is pronounced “boo-ee,” so they don’t sound alike.

However, in other English dialects, such as British and Australian English, “boy” and “buoy” are homophones. And this makes it easy to get the spellings mixed up! We still see traces of the old UK English pronunciation in “buoyant” and “buoyancy,” which are both pronounced with “boy” at the start.

This doesn’t affect how the words are used in writing. But remember: if you hear a British or Australian person talking about a “boy” floating at sea, they probably mean a “buoy” rather than a male child!

Summary: Boy or Buoy?

If you are used to American English, the different pronunciations of “boy” and “buoy” should make it easy to tell them apart. But if you’re used to another English dialect, remember the following difference:

  • A boy is a young male.
  • A buoy is a floating marker, usually at sea.

If you’re worried about misusing these words, or about any other aspect of your writing, our proofreading experts are on hand to help.

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