ball vs. bawl

What is the difference between ball and bawl?

A ball is any spherical object, especially as used in various sports (such as a baseball, soccer ball, basketball, etc.). Ball can also be a verb meaning “to become or make into a ball.” (It can also refer to formal social functions that feature dancing, though this is a more specific usage.)
Bawl, meanwhile, is usually used as a verb, meaning “to cry, sob, or shout loudly or vehemently,” as in:
  • “My brother started bawling when my parents grounded him.”
As with bait and bate, the confusion for most writers occurs when using an idiomatic phrase—in this case, “bawl someone out,” which means “to scold or reprimand someone very loudly and harshly.” (It can also be reworked as “get bawled out,” meaning “to receive a harsh or severe reprimand or rebuke.”) For example:
  • “The boss just bawled Mike out for how he handled the account.”
  • “I got bawled out by my teacher for falling asleep in class.”
Because ball is much more common than bawl in everyday speech and writing—and because bawl is usually associated with crying, rather than shouting—it is a common mistake to write “ball someone out” or “get balled out.” However, it’s important to remember that, generally speaking, ball will only be used in reference to a spherical object or a game played with one. If you are talking about loud crying, sobbing, or yelling, bawl is the correct spelling.
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