• 3-minute read
  • 18th September 2015

Word Choice: Bare vs. Bear

In academic writing, even a minor error can make a big difference. ‘Bare’ and ‘bear’, for instance, sound identical when spoken, but there’s an important distinction between the ‘right to bear arms’ (i.e. carry weapons) and the ‘right to bare arms’ (i.e. wear a t-shirt).

And just imagine the confusion if you ever shaved a bear’s arms and gave it a gun; you’d have a ‘bare armed bear bearing arms’. (N.B. Proofed does not recommend either shaving or arming bears.)

As you can see homophones (similar sounding words with different definitions) can be a little confusing, especially if English is not your first language. This is why it’s important to remember the difference between certain terms if you want your writing to be clear and coherent (‘bare’ and ‘bear’ included).

How to Use ‘Bare’

We’ll start with ‘bare’, as its definition is a little simpler, and if you can remember how to use ‘bare’ correctly it will make it much easier to know how to use ‘bear’. As an adjective, ‘bare’ has two main uses, meaning either ‘uncovered’:

Having forgotten his hat, the sun shone down on Brian’s bare head.

Or ‘plain’ or ‘simple’:

Linda wanted to travel light, so she only packed the bare necessities.

As a verb, ‘bare’ means ‘uncover’:

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Ripping his shirt open with a flourish, Marcus bared his new tattoo.

The Many Meanings of Bear

The word ‘bear’ is a little more complicated, as it can be used in a number of ways. When used as a noun, of course, it refers to the species of large, furry animal (though not the koala):

The koala is often wrongly called a bear.

As a verb, however, ‘bear’ has a few meanings. Some of the main uses are as follows:

  1. Hold or support (‘to bear the weight of the roof’)
  2. Withstand or tolerate (‘to bear the brunt of the attack’ or ‘I cannot bear sarcasm’)
  3. Carry or display (‘he was honoured to bear the standard into battle’ or ‘the paper bore her signature’)
  4. Bring forth (‘to bear a child’ or ‘to bear fruit’)
  5. Turn in a specific direction (‘at the end of the road, bear left’)

There are also a few additional meanings of ‘bear’: in the financial world, a ‘bear’ is someone who sells shares hoping to buy them back later at a lower price, while in homosexual slang ‘bear’ is a term sometimes used to describe large, hairy men. Generally, though, these additional meanings only apply in very specific contexts.

As long as you remember the above, you should be able to use ‘bare’ and ‘bear’ with complete confidence. But if you want to make certain that your writing is error-free, try sending in a 500-word sample to Proofed for free.

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