“Bare” vs. “Bear”: What Is The Difference?

Most people know the word bear as a fuzzy noun: a massive mammal that makes for a beloved and cuddly toy. But what about the pain that some people know (all too well) when bearing down if they have a hemorrhoid? Or is it baring down that causes the unbearable burning?

What if I take my shoes off when I enter someone’s home—am I walking inside with my bare feet? Or is it bear feet? Or after a long day, am I putting in the bear minimum effort to get by or the bare minimum?

Let’s take a look at the difference between bare and bear to get a clearer picture and understand these two different words.

What does bare mean?

Bare is an adjective that means “without covering or clothing; naked; nude.” For example: Some places of worship would prefer you to cover up your bare shoulders before coming inside.

When it comes to a space, bare can also refer to “without the usual furnishings, contents, etc.” For example: After his ex first moved out, it struck him how bare the apartment was without her belongings.

But bare can also be used to describe something that’s “unconcealed or undisguised” as well as something that’s “unadorned or plain.” And with cloth specifically, it refers to material that’s threadbare.

However, when used as a verb, bare is defined as “to open to view; reveal or divulge.” For example: During therapy she finally bared the childhood horrors that she’s suppressed for all of these years.

Bare‘s first recorded use was sometime before 900, and it originated from the Old English bær. It’s connected to the Old Frisian ber, Dutch baar, German bar, Lithuanian bãsas (“barefoot”), and Russian bos.

Stark and barren are both synonyms for bare as all three share “the sense of lack or absence of something that might be expected.”

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What does bear mean?

Bear is a verb that means “to hold up or support” something. For example: It may not look that strong, but that beam bears the weight of the second floor.

Bear can also mean “to hold or remain firm under a heavy load.” For example: As a strong mom, she bears the weight of the world on her shoulders while shielding her kids from ever seeing the strain.

There are also multiple verb phrases involving bear (and never bare) that will sound familiar. These include to bear down, to bear off, to bear on, to bear out, to bear up, and to bear with.

Bear’s first recorded use was also before 900, via the Middle English beren and Old English beran. Synonyms for bear include stand and endure as all three refer to supporting the burden of something. 

How to use bear vs. bare

If you’re referring to something that’s naked, exposed, or stark, the right choice is bare. Some examples exclude:

  • The wedding dress was too revealing for her conservative taste since it featured a bare midriff and a plunging neckline.
  • The bare walls were a constant reminder that this rental wasn’t his home and was only temporary.
  • All it took was for the grumpy old cat to bare his teeth and the little boy immediately ran away.

But if you’re referring to sustaining, upholding, or supporting something, that’s when bear comes into play. For example:

  • After the hurricane, the house was in shambles, and it didn’t look like the walls would bear the roof’s weight much longer.

Although bare and bear are often mixed up, one way to cut down on confusion is by keeping this trick in mind: when used as a verb, think of bare as uncovering or revealing. For example: the robber bared his weapon or the doctor asked the patient to bare his abdomen for the examination.

But if it’s not about exposing something, then for everything else your best bet is to stick to bear. Some examples include: bearing down during birth and please bear with me while I get these papers together.

And if it’s the large wild animal rummaging through your trash at 3 a.m.? I think it bears repeating that that is a bear, and you should probably lock your trash at night.

Want some more like this? Venture into more interesting articles like uncharted vs. unchartered and breach vs. breech!

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