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Commonly Confused:

Bare versus Bear

By a show of hands, how many still flub up using bare and bear from time to time? I’m relying on your complete honesty here. I promise I won’t call you out on it unless I’m editing your manuscript. đŸ™‚

Why do we mix up bare and bear? It should be straightforward.

To paraphrase Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary…


Bear is straightforward as a noun. The most commonly used definitions are:

  • A large heavy mammal with long shaggy fur, etc. It can also mean someone resembling a large heavy mammal with long shaggy fur in appearance, manner, or attitude.
  • Also, to be “a bear” at something means to excel or have a special aptitude for it. It’s a lot like having mad skills.
  • It can also be something that is difficult, like that bear of a chemistry exam.

Bear is clear as a verb as well.

  • carry, harbor, support, conduct, behave, wield, testify
  • have a characteristic or physical trait
  • lead, render, transport
  • give birth to, produce, yield, afford
  • sustain, tolerate, accept, invite
  • to drive, to be situated, to extend, to show direction, to proceed


Bare is an adjective and is defined below:bear hands

  • lacking in covering or clothing
  • open to view or comprehension
  • lacking or destitute
  • minimum, mere, scanty or meager

Bare as a verb is much simpler than the verb form of bear and doesn’t have a similar meaning.

  • uncover or reveal

Visually the definitions of these two words are worlds apart with little resemblance to each other. So why do we get hung up on bare versus bear? The answer might be in the idiomatic use of bear. We love our cliches and sayings, don’t we? And bear has quite a few to contend with.

  • bear at hand (participate)
  • bear arms (carry weapons)
  • bear arms against (wage war)
  • bear date (document date)
  • bear fruit (produce)
  • bear in hand (manage or maintain)
  • bear in mind (remember with caution)
  • bear in with (tend toward)
  • bear with (endure)

Each use corresponds to a definition of bear and has nothing to do with uncovering or revealing.

So when you’re questioning the use of bare versus bear, if it’s not revealing something, uncovering something or talking about something lacking, the correct word to use is most likely bear.

Now… go write something!

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