About The Joy of English

Grammar: bare or bear?

At first this might seem like a strange combination of words to add here because surely everyone knows the difference between a bear and being bare. But what about, say, too much to bare/bear? What does that have to with being bare or bears in the woods?

Of course we do. However, when it comes to verbal phrases and everyday expressions the context of which bear/bare is used can become obscured. So let's start with bare: we bare all both physically and figuratively; another form of this is bare your soul; while bare your teeth has nothing to do with bears; and you wouldn't tackle a bear with bare hands.

The thing about bear, and why it can be tricky, is that not all of them relate to the fine furry beast: to bear yourself with dignity is not the same thing as doing so with the other choice of spelling because bear also means carry; this can be too much to bear, not bare; unfortunately you alone bear responsibility for this; otherwise your words might not bear scrutiny; so, now, if you can't bear it, perhaps you have to grin and bear it anyway; this does not bear thinking about, and you might have to bear the burden of the pressure that you bring to bear; or simply bear arms, hope that it bears fruit and forever bear a grudge. We might now be bearing down on the end of this silly paragraph but bear with me; I promise that I have no cross to bear, so please bear up before I bear off; If you are getting sick of all this, I hope that it won't bear heavily on your views of this website. The good news is that I can bear witness to the fact that, after all of that, there was – actually – no one single furry bear in sight!


About the author

Jesse Karjalainen is the author of The Joy of English: 100 conversations about the English Language, Cannibal – the language and history of the discovery of the New World, and Roanoke – the language and history of Early Colonial America.