Bare vs. Bear: How to Choose the Right Word

They sound similar, but their definitions are anything but identical.

Sometimes, a word can sound the same as another and have roughly the same meaning; sometimes, choosing the wrong one is the difference between talking about seeing a furry animal in the woods, or a person running around without any clothes. While bear and bare are often confused, the former either refers to a large mammal or the act of carrying or enduring, and “bare” refers to uncovering something. 

How to Use Bear

The word "bear" has several different definitions. Bear is most often confused with its homonym in its verb form, when it means “to carry” or “to support.” When used this way, it can bear a variety of different meanings: you could bear yourself with poise—meaning you carry yourself with poise—, or you could bear a tray at a party—meaning you’re carrying a tray around the room. You might even see it, on occasion, used as a synonym for "to wear."

It can also refer to the act of enduring something, such a difficulty. You might bear the brunt of a difficult financial year, or bear the loss of a loved one. You will also hear it used when talking about giving birth to a child, and, sometimes more loosely, as yielding something, such as trees bearing fruit or flowers, or hard work bearing success. 

Finally, it can be used when talking about maintaining a certain direction. When you bear south while driving, you continue heading south until otherwise noted. 

Many people will recognize bear as a noun, when it relates to the large, furry mammal, such as a black bear or a koala bear. 

How to Use Bare

"Bare" can function as a verb and an adjective. As a verb, it means to uncover or expose something. We might bare our legs while wearing shorts in the summer, or we might bare our feelings to a romantic partner. 

As an adjective, it is not so different: bare refers to someone who is not clothed or covered. For example, if someone bared themselves, they might be showing parts of their body, the same as if they were bare. Someone could be entirely bare—naked—or, they could just have bare hands, meaning they aren’t wearing gloves or mittens.

Examples

  • After bearing three children who bore her mother's resemblance, Lisa knew how to bear the pain of childbirth: In this situation, “bear” is used in all three instances. “Bearing” is used to discuss giving birth to children, and “bear” shows how Lisa was able to endure the discomfort. “Bore,” bear's past tense form, shows that Lisa’s children carried similar features to Lisa's own mother.
  • He could not bear the weight of the sofa by himself, so he hired two friends to help him move it: Here, bear refers to the act of carrying or supporting something.
  • Feeling guilty for eating the plums in the ice box, he bared his soul to her: “Baring one’s soul” is a common phrase that expresses revealing or exposing some truth. Here, he is uncovering the truth of eating the plums. 
  • We were walking with bare feet in the grass when we saw the bear sitting in the shade: Bare feet refers to feet that are uncovered—the people in question are not wearing shoes or socks. Bear refers to the large animal. 
  • They came bearing a fruit platter for the party, since their tree had borne pears that year: In this sentence, the people are carrying and bringing their friends a fruit platter, since their tree had produced apples. Bear also represents the tree producing fruit.

How to Remember the Difference

Struggling to remember how to use each one? Think of “bear’s” other definition: a big, strong bear can carry, or bear, a great deal of weight, just as the word bear relates to carrying or enduring something. You can also think of the phrase a bare bear, meaning an uncovered bear. Bare means to expose, and both words end in "e"—this is the only time when "bare" is correct. Bear should be used in every other situation. 

Sources

  • Bear vs. Bare, www.grammar.com/bear_vs._bare.
  • Shrives, Craig. Bare or Bear?, www.grammar-monster.com/easily_confused/bare_bear.htm.