Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

No one in their right mind thinks that Facebook is a glowing bastion for perfect spelling and grammar. Typos run rampant on the social network, and those can be more easily forgiven in such a casual context, but out-and-out errors still need to be avoided. Just the other day, one of my friends wrote that his lunch “costed” him $15, when he should have said that it “cost” him $15. Because “costed” isn’t a real word, right?


What Does “Cost” Mean?

Let’s take a step back. The word “cost” actually has multiple definitions, being used both as a verb and a noun. In general, it refers to the amount of money (or other resources or items of value) it would take to acquire or to have something.

Using PayPal to accept payment from my clients costs me money, because I have to pay transaction fees. It costs more than just the purchase price of a new vehicle in order to own and maintain it. Other costs (i.e., other expenses) involved may include maintenance, oil changes, auto insurance and gas.

“Cost” can also refer to non-monetary sacrifices. The opportunity cost of taking on an extra shift at work is that you can’t then spend that time on your hobby. Eating junk food can cost you your health.

Tensed in the Past

Some confusion arises when you start to consider the past tense. Because we’ve learned that most verbs can be made into the past tense by adding -ed to the end, as in walked and slammed, some people conclude that the past tense of “cost” must then be “costed.”

If we were to use the same general definition as above, this would be incorrect. We should just be using “cost.”

  • How much does that sandwich cost? (present)
  • The sandwich I bought yesterday cost $5. (past)
  • The car had cost $6,000 when I bought it last year. (past participle)

Costed Can Be Correct

So, is using “costed” completely wrong? That depends on what you’re trying to say.

The word comes from a different definition of “cost” that, used as a verb, means to determine or estimate how much something is going to cost. You’ll find this more commonly in the context of government or business projects, though it could be used in less formal contexts too.

  • The manager costed the promotional materials at $2,000 a pallet.
  • After costing out the upgrades, we’ve determined we can’t afford them.
  • The expansion project has been fully costed and is awaiting approval.

The term “fully costed” usually indicates that a formal or semi-formal report has been drafted outlining all the costs involved for the project. I’ve also encountered “costed out” and “costing out” as acceptable variations to the simple “costed” and “costing.”

It’s important to differentiate between costing a product and pricing a product. From the perspective of the business, costing the product determines how much the company needs to pay in order to have the item to sell, whereas pricing the product determines how much the company is going to charge customers for the product.

The True Cost of (Not) Proofreading

Grammar on the Internet might be getting worse and worse, likely because automatic spellcheck tools don’t pick up on these mistakes. It might cost you a few extra seconds to read over your status update before posting, but not checking could cost you a lot more.