Bear vs. bare?

The verb bear means ‘to endure’ or ‘carry,’ while the verb bare means ‘to expose’ or ‘uncover.’

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What is the difference between bear and bare?

Bear and bare are two of the trickiest English homophones. We pronounce them the same, and they share similar spellings, but, in the end, they have completely different meanings. 

The word bear is a noun and verb with several definitions, but most of us recognize “bear” as the large mammals who scavenge for berries and fish. Giant pandas, polar bears, sun bears, and American or Asian black bears are all examples of this furry animal. Unfortunately for us, they are not related to the verbs bear and bare

Many English speakers struggle with the verbs bear and bare, but with the help of Garner’s Modern English Usage, we can quickly resolve the matter: 

  • Use the verb bear for ‘to carry’ or ‘endure.’ 
  • Use bare as an intransitive verb to mean ‘uncover.’ 

What does bare mean?

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the verb bare as ‘to uncover’ or ‘expose‘ something to view, whether it’s an object, emotion, or body part. Verb forms of bare include “baring” for the present participle, “bare” for the present tense, and “bared” for the past participle.

Sentence examples: 

  • “Don’t bare your soul to someone you cannot trust.”
  • “Participants of the World Naked Bike Ride are allowed to bare as they dare.” 
  • “Most offices generally look down on bearing one’s midriff at work.”

Synonyms: 

Disclose, divulge, expose, reveal, strip, unbosom, uncloak, uncover, undrape, undress, unmask, unveil.

Bare as an adjective

As an adjective, the word bare describes a person or part of the body that is not clothed, covered, or disguised. However, we can also use the adjective to describe something as basic, simple, or surprisingly small in quantity. 

Sentence examples: 

  • “Some art classes require students to sketch bare models.” 
  • “I don’t want anything frivolous, only the bare essentials.” 
  • “The apartment was bare of any furniture or kitchen utensils.” 
  • “When it comes to relationships, don’t settle for the bare minimum.”
  • “You can’t walk into the store with bare feet.”

Synonyms: 

[1] Au naturel, bald, bottomless, denuded, disrobed, exposed, mother-naked, naked, nude, open, peeled, plain, stripped, revealed, unclad, unclothed, undressed, uncovered.

[2] Bankrupt, barren, bereft, blank, destitute, devoid, empty, mere, modest, plain, stark, unadorned, undecorated, vacant, void. 

What does bear mean?

The verb bear has several different meanings, but the primary definitions are ‘to carry’ and ‘to endure.’ For either sense, we use “bearing” as the present participle, “borne” as the past participle, and “born” for the past tense. 

To carry

When the verb bear means ‘to carry,’ it describes the broad act of transporting, harboring or sustaining something. Specific contexts include: 

1. To transport or carry something.

  • “She was bearing a basket filled with dirty laundry.” 
  • “The truck bore several baskets of fruit and cheese.” 

Synonyms: 

Bring, deliver, carry, cart, convey, ferry, forward, haul, lug, pack, send, ship tote, transfer, transport.

2. To wear or display something.

  • “The artist’s arm bears the mark of the devil.” 
  • “She bears a resemblance to her mother.” 
  • “Americans have the right to bear arms.” 

Synonyms

Display, carry, exhibit, flaunt, pack, show off, sport. 

3. To possess relevance or a connection.

  • “Our philosophy bears on the prophet’s key teachings.”
  • “The book bears on the topic of English grammar.” 

Synonyms: 

Appertain, apply, associate, concern, connect, interest, involve, link, pertain, refer, relate, resemble. 

4. To hold up, support, or carry the weight of something.

  • “The bridge cannot bear the weight of 100 semi-trucks.”
  • “The roof has born many fallen trees.” 

Synonyms

Bolster, brace, carry, prop up, support, sustain, uphold. 

5. To harbor feelings or hold within.  

  • “The goddess bore love in her heart for all humanity.”
  • “I’m the worst at bearing grudges.”

Synonyms

Cherish, contain, cultivate, entertain, foster, harbor, have, hold, nurse, nurture. 

6. To carry or conduct oneself in a particular manner. 

  • “The children bore a light and playful charm for the adults, but in private, they turned into mischievous little devils.”
  • “He does not bear himself with respect.” 

Synonyms: 

Acquit, behave, carry, compose, conduct, constrain, control, demean. 

7. To produce revenue, children, or fruit and flowers (as a tree or plant). 

  • “The queen bore two heirs to the throne.”
  • “We expect the vineyard to bear several barrels of pinot this year.” 
  • “Our trees once bore bushels of hazelnuts and pears.”  
  • “The business has proven itself to be a profit-bearing machine.”

Synonyms: 

Birth, deliver, generate, produce, return, reproduce, propagate, spawn, yield.

To endure

The verb bear can also mean ‘to endure’ an ordeal or ‘to manage to tolerate’ with difficulty. For example, 

  • “We have been bearing the struggles of the past year.” 
  • “You will have to bear with me, as this presentation is long.” 

Alternatively, when the phrase “cannot bear” precedes a verb or noun, it means ‘to strongly dislike.’ For example, 

  • “I cannot bear another quick on homonyms.” 

Similar meanings of bear also include the act of supporting, taking responsibility, or standing up to something. For example,

  • “She will bear the brunt of the situation.” 
  • “The film’s director was not ready to bear scrutiny at such levels.”
  • “Future generations will bear the weight of the current economy.” 

Synonyms: 

Abide, accept, endure, handle, live with, shoulder, stand, stick out, stomach, sustain, take, tolerate, tough it out, undertake.

To occupy or proceed toward a location

Lastly, the verb bear may infer a sense of directionality, whether it means ‘to turn and proceed in a specified direction’ or ‘to occupy a space or location.’ Example sentences include, 

  • Bear right on to Main Street and continue driving for another mile.”
  • “The storm bears north of the Gulf of Mexico.” 

Synonyms:

Aim, beeline, direct, extend, face, head, make, orient, point, set out, steer, turn.

What does bear mean as a noun?

The word bear also exists as a noun when it describes the bear animal species (family Ursidae), which are large, furry mammals with short, stubby tails. All bears are recognizable by their slumped posture, four-legged mobility, and slight facial resemblance to dogs. Sentence example include, 

  • “Park rangers advise campers to hang their food from trees overnight so that bears don’t disturb their camp.”
  • “If you find a group of bear cubs, beware of their territorial mother.” 

English speakers also use the noun bear to mean ‘a rough, unmannerly, or uncouth individual,’ ‘a large, cumbersome man,’ or ‘an unpleasant situation’ in general. For example, 

  • “His father was a bear of a man.” 
  • “He is a big, grumbling bear.” 

If you’re discussing the stock market, the noun bear also describes someone who forecasts the rise and fall of stocks or commodities (especially when they sell and purchase stocks later at lower prices). For example, 

  • Bears rule the market when stocks fall below average.” 
  • “The economy is trouble when bears are in control of the stock market.”

How to use phrases with bear and bare

Another reason English speakers struggle with bear vs. bare involves the plethora of phrases we use them for (especially the ones that sound similar). First, let’s take a look at commonly misspelled phrases: 

Bear arms vs. bare arms

The phrase “bear arms” means to carry firearms or wear a coat of arms. For example, 

  • “American citizens have the right to bear arms.” 
  • “During the war, some drafted men refused to bear arms.” 

Bare arms” is not a phrase, but it’s worth mentioning because it sounds exactly the same as “bear arms.” If someone has “bare arms,” it means their arms are exposed or uncovered. For example, 

  • “I should have worn a jacket because my bare arms are freezing.” 
  • “We are not allowed to have bare arms in the office.”

Grin and bear it vs. bare one’s teeth

The phrases “grin and bear it” and “bare one’s teeth” both sound as though they involve opening your mouth, but that’s just because “bear” and “bare” sound the same. 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “grin and bear it” means ‘to accept something bad without complaining.’ For example, 

  • “I’d rather avoid exercising, but I better grin and bear it.”
  • “It doesn’t matter if you’re bored. Your parents expect you to bear and grin it.” 

Meanwhile, the phrase “bare one’s teeth” means ‘to show one’s teeth‘ while angry (“Bare” 132). For example, 

  • “‘I don’t want vegetables!’ said the child, baring his teeth.” 
  • “The Beast angrily searched his castle while baring his teeth.” 

Additional phrases of bear

  • Bear down: to push or exert downward pressure while delivering a baby.
  • Bear down on: to move toward someone in a fast and intimidating manner, or to adopt strict measures to handle something.
  • Bear fruit: to produce positive outcomes. 
  • Bear witness: to testify to something (also as ‘bear testimony’).
  • Bring pressure to bear on: to attempt to coerce another. 
  • Bear up: to maintain a cheerful disposition despite poor circumstances. 
  • Bear with: to be patient or tolerant with someone. 

Additional phrases of bare

  • Bare all: to remove one’s clothes and expose their body to others. 
  • The bare-bones: the basic facts (and without frivolous details). 
  • Bare one’s soul: to reveal one’s private secrets and feelings. 
  • With one’s bare hands: to perform a task without using any tools or weapons. 

How to remember the difference between bare and bear?

Learning the difference between bare and bear is much easier with mnemonic phrases like “a bear can bear a heavy load” or “a bear can bear it.” These two expressions are also great ways to make sense of “bear,” as the verb means ‘to carry’ or ‘endure.’ But if you need a way to remember “bare,” as well, try this unique approach: 

You can dare to bare, but to fight a bear is unbearable.” 

Dare to bare” is an easy way to remember the spelling of “bare,” but it’s also helpful for memorizing the definition too. Following with the phrase “to fight a bear is unbearable” allows us to contrast the meaning and spelling of “bear” and to remember the correct spelling of “unbearable” (a commonly misspelled word). 

Additional reading for bear vs. bare

For more lessons on commonly confused words involving homophones, homographs, and more, check out  The Word Counter’s lessons on topics, such as:

Test Yourself!

Do you find common misspellings to be unbearable? If so, double-check your understanding of bare vs. bear with a quick multiple-choice quiz. 

  1. True or false: The words “bare” and “bear” always have different meanings. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. Which of the following does not describe “bear” as a noun?
    a. Wild animal 
    b. Difficult situation
    c. Enduring the weight of something
    d. A and B
  3. Choose the right word: “Every day, the singer ___________ her soul to the city of New York.”
    a. Bears
    b. Bares
  4. Which word means ‘to conduct oneself in a particular manner’? 
    a. Bare, verb
    b. Bear, noun
    c. Bear, verb
    d. Bare, adjective
  5. Which of the following phrases or idioms uses the correct word for “bear” or “bare”?
    a. Bare and grin it
    b. With one’s bear hands
    c. Bear arms
    d. The bear-bones

Answers

  1. A
  2. C
  3. B
  4. C
  5. C

Sources

  1. “Bare.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 132.  
  2. Bear.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  3. Bear.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  4. “Bear.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 144. 
  5. Bear arms.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  6. Garner, B. “Bare.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 96. 
  7. Grin and bear it.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.