The difference between using “boy friend” and “boyfriend” is that the first is simply a young male friend and the second is a romantic relationship. The two are not interchangeable and mean two completely different things. This may seem strange because when you say either one, you annunciate them the same way.
Therefore, it’s not uncommon to have to clarify what you mean when saying “boyfriend.” But sometimes emphasizing the pause between “boy” and “friend” will do it, depending on the context of the conversation. When writing either form, it should be apparent to the reader how you mean it.
The History of “Boyfriend”
Up until 1850, boyfriend indicated a “juvenile male companion.” This did not have any romantic allusions or connections. Boys and girls would say “boyfriend,” to indicate their male companion who would likely be under the age of 18 years old.
It was in the early 1900s that “boyfriend” became synonymous with a male who was the love interest of a woman. This word has stuck in the English language until today and it still means the same thing.
“Boy Friend” versus “Boyfriend”
Because of the confusion around the difference between using “boy friend” and “boyfriend,” it gives rise to much miscommunication. Plus, it sounds immature and juvenile for an adult to refer to their romantic companion as “boyfriend.”
Therefore, many people will use other synonyms to discuss a “boy friend” versus “boyfriend.” Adults often opt to say “beau,” “partner” or “sweetheart.” However, teenagers and younger adults will still use “boyfriend.” But they might also use slang words such as “bae” or “boo.”
Understanding the Subtle Distinctions
Study the sample sentences below to understand the distinction between using “boy friend” and “boyfriend.”
My boyfriend Steve doesn’t like my boy friend Dave.
Amanda’s boy friend Mike is coming to the party tonight. But Mike is Sarah’s boyfriend.
Is Douglas your boyfriend or just your boy friend?
I love my boyfriend but I really like the way my boy friend tells jokes.
It never works out well when boy friends become boyfriends.
Although the differences are slight, they are very distinct when it comes to “boy friend” or “boyfriend.” These are indicators of a young male that are either a friend or a romantic interest. So, to avoid confusion and miscommunication, people often use other synonyms or pause slightly between “boy” and “friend” to clarify their meaning.