Pesky Words (Homophones) – Bear vs. Bare

The words bear and bare can cause a whole lot of confusion. Given that we associate the word bear with a hairy animal with huge teeth it can feel a bit weird to use it any context other than that. As a result, we can inadvertently end up using bare incorrectly.

As usual, I refer to my trusted Oxford English Dictionary for the definitions of each word.


bear1 v. 1 carry or convey. have as an attribute or visible mark. 2 support (a weight). 3 [with neg.] manage to tolerate: I can’t bear it. 4 give birth to (a child). (of a tree or plant) produce (fruit or flowers). 5 turn and proceed in a specified direction: bear left. 6 (bear oneself) conduct oneself in a specified manner.1

bear2 n. 1 a large, heavy mammal which walks on the soles of its feet, having thick fur and a very short tail. 2 Stock Exchange a person who sells shares hoping to buy them back later at a lower price. Often contrasted with BULL.[said to be from a proverb warning against ‘selling the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear’.] 3 a rough or bad-mannered person.1


Here we see that bear is much more than a big, furry animal or a stuffed toy we give to children, and it’s no wonder we get confused by these two given all the definitions of bear alone. (I notice the OED make no mention of big teeth!)

In our writing we would tend to use bear in relation to carrying, enduring and maintaining direction. So, in the context of carrying, be it an object or a message, we would use bear like this:


‘He came bearing gifts.’

‘She looks as though she bears the weight of the world on her shoulders.’

‘I’m afraid I bear bad news.’


Examples of bear being used as way to convey tolerating something are:


‘I can’t bear this.’

‘She couldn’t bear the sight of it.’

‘Dubai is beautiful if you can bear the heat.’


And to express maintaining direction, we use bear like this:


‘After the roundabout bear left.’

The path bears right after 10 miles.’


The OED does not make reference in its definition to bear meaning being patient or tolerant with, instead it refers to it as the phrasal verb bear with:


‘Please bear with me while I deal with this customer.’

‘Thank you for bearing with me while I went to find the answers.’


In contrast bare appears simple:


bare adj. 1 (of a person or part of the body) not clothed or covered. Without the appropriate or usual covering or contents: bare floorboards. (bare of) without. 2 without elaboration; basic. only just sufficient: a bare majority. v. uncover (a part of the body) and expose it to view.1


Bare refers to being naked or uncovered and when you think of it in those terms it becomes a lot easier.

So, when I am considering which is the right bear/bare to use I think of being naked! If the sentence does not involve anyone being naked or undressed it’s the ‘grr’ kind of bear. For example, you would not ask someone to be naked with you while you dealt with a customer as in the example above.

Do you have any handy cheats that help you differentiate between bear and bare? If you do I would love to hear them.

I hope this helps a little. Happy writing!

1Stevenson, A. and Waite, M. 2011, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1911

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