bare bones

plural noun

the irreducible minimum; the most essential components: Reduce this report to its bare bones. There is nothing left of the town but the bare bones—a couple of stores, a church, and a few houses.



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Origin of bare bones

First recorded in 1910–15


bare-bones, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does bare bones mean?

The bare bones is the absolute minimum, the plain essential elements or facts, or the most basic framework of something.

Bare often means uncovered, but in this case it means unadorned, plain, or scarcely or just sufficient. Bare bones is often used to refer to something that only includes its essential parts and nothing else.

The adjective form bare-bones means most basic and without any frills, as in My apartment is pretty bare-bones, with just a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. 

Example: After the seniors graduate, the team will be left with only the bare bones of a squad, so they’ll need to recruit some more members.

Where does bare bones come from?

Shakespeare used the term bare bone to refer to a skinny person in 1598, but the first records of bare bones referring to the bare essentials come from about 300 years later. The phrase is a reference to the skeleton as the essential framework of the body.

Bare bones can mean “the bare minimum,” as in With only the bare bones to work with, we’ll essentially have to start from scratch. It often refers to the essential components or facts, as in Don’t go into detail—just give me the bare bones. It can also mean “the basic framework,” as in You have the bare bones of a plan here, but it needs to be fleshed out. If a house is stripped to its bare bones, it usually means only the frame and foundation are left intact.

The adjective bare-bones is typically applied to things in their most basic or essential state, with nothing added, as in We need to operate with a bare-bones budget—we don’t have the money for anything other than the necessities.

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What are some synonyms for bare bones?

What are some synonyms for bare-bones?

What are some words that share a root or word element with bare bones

What are some words that often get used in discussing bare bones?


How is bare bones used in real life?

Bare bones is often used to refer to things that should or will eventually have more elements. These are most often negative situations, but the term can be used positively, too—a bare-bones approach to performing a task might be a welcome change from an overly complex method.



Try using bare bones!

Is bare bones used correctly in the following sentence?

I removed parts from the machine until only the bare bones were left.

Example sentences from the Web for bare bones

British Dictionary definitions for bare bones



basic or simple; no-frills
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Idioms and Phrases with bare bones

bare bones

The mere essentials or plain, unadorned framework of something, as in This outline gives just the bare bones of the story; details will come later. This phrase transfers the naked skeleton of a body to figurative use. [c. 1900]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.