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English Lesson 24: Correct Use of Bear and Bare

November 8th, 2008

bear-bare.jpgEarlier this week, one of the Entrecard members sent me a message asking about the correct usage of bear and bare. Specifically the query involved the common phrase “bear with me”, and the person was asking about which form of the word was the proper spelling. Since I have not posted an English usage topic for the past few weeks, I figured that I might as well pass on the information to the rest of my readers in case anyone else is still confused about this issue. Afterward, I will list some other uses of both bear and bare that fall outside the scope of the above query but that you may want to know for future reference. Here is a redacted version (irrelevant portions of the text have been removed) of my response to the Entrecard member:

This one actually depends upon the context of the sentence. If you say “bear with me”, it implies that you are enduring a hardship, a burden, or some other type of difficult situation. For example, you may have heard the old saying, “we’ll just have to grin and bear it.” In MOST cases, this is what people mean when they say “bear with me”, but it is not 100% certain.

On the other hand, “bare with me” also may be correct in some contexts because “bare” used a verb means to expose or to remove the covering from something. For example, you might “bare” with someone in the shower, at the beach, or before performing certain salacious activities, but it’s also possible to bare a piece of treated wood by removing its varnish or other coating.

A humorous example of the bear vs. bare issue can be seen in an email from Owl Post program owner Michele Ballard that I republished last year just for fun (the relevant portions can be found in the last two paragraphs of the post). She had used the “bare with me” form in a way that was grammatically correct but apparently not what she intended. Interestingly, it took her more than a year to finally respond to the post and confirm this!

Bear vs. Bare example

So to recap, just remember to write “bear with me” unless you really want to expose yourself, perhaps in more ways than one. Meanwhile, here are some other uses for the word bear.

  1. The most obvious is the animal bear, specifically a variety of omnivorous mammals of the biological family Ursidae. There are a few animals such as the koala bear that are not true bears but have become commonly labeled as such because of their appearance.
  2. In financial lingo, bear is used as an informal term to describe a person who is expecting declining prices of stocks or other financial instruments. It is also used in the adjective form with generally this same connotation; a “bear market” refers to a period when stock prices are decreasing overall.
  3. Another informal usage of bear refers to something that is difficult or expected to be difficult as in “that final exam was a real bear.”
  4. Bear used as a verb generally means to carry, as in the phrase “keep and bear arms.” However, it can also refer to giving birth or producing offspring of some sort, as in bearing children or bearing fruit.
  5. Another fairly common verb usage of bear is in the phrase “bear down”, which refers to the exertion of force, pressure, or effort of some kind. In some contexts, this also carries with it a sense of threat or urgency; if something is bearing down on you, in most cases you will want to move out of the way or take some type of defensive action.

Meanwhile, bare, in addition to the verb form meaning to expose, uncover, or reveal, is also used as an adjective and has a few significant variances in meaning:

  1. Naked, uncovered, undisguised, unadorned (essentially the same meaning as the verb form)
  2. Lacking in decoration or fancy features; for example, a bare website would be one that uses a minimalist design and is devoid of flashy advertising.
  3. Just sufficient, mere, basic; the minimum amount needed to survive or succeed. This is the adjective form of the commonly used adverb barely.

I hope that this explanation will help to alleviate any lingering confusion you may have about these two words. The next English usage topic that I have planned will deal with redundant phrases (including ignorance of acronyms) and will probably arrive next weekend unless I encounter a situation where it needs to be posted sooner.


6 Responses to “English Lesson 24: Correct Use of Bear and Bare”

  1. comment number 1 by: Angelika

    I never knew the difference between a Bear Market and a Bull Market! Cool. :-)

  2. comment number 2 by: Bob Caine

    Very well explained. I have loved understanding words since my junior year in high school. I had an English teacher who made us use the correct connotation of words. I had never thought of bear/bare before. My favorite is few/less.

  3. comment number 3 by: John C

    Mary had a little lamb,
    She also had a bear,
    We always saw her little lamb
    but we never saw her bear.

    (Anon)

  4. comment number 4 by: nina

    great!!!!!!!! worth my time.

  5. comment number 5 by: 285fpb

    thank you for this lesson, it’s well explained and everybody can understand it. I already knew about this, but there are so many people that don’t know it..

  6. comment number 6 by: Darren

    Thank you, I’m actually writing a short story right now and that was one correction that Word highlighted and I didn’t know if it was the proper syntax or not.

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