Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
bear versus bare in English spelling

Have you heard somebody say that they “built something with their bare hands?”

Have you also heard somebody say they “can’t bear it” in conversation?

These two words are very different in their meaning, but they can be confusing as they sound the same.

We’re going to look at the definitions for both of these words, common phrases using each of them, and how to use them in conversation.

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Looking At A Sometimes Confusing Word

A little while back, we did an episode and spoke about how we should do a whole episode devoted to the word “bear” or “bare.”

This came up with our listeners on Instagram, and it appears to be a very common question or area of confusion.

This is a rather interesting word because it sounds the same, but it’s very different.

Sometimes you will see the word spelled b-e-a-r like the animal, and that’s a common use.

Then we’ll see the word bare spelled b-a-r-e and it has a different meaning.

Even natives struggle with this one sometimes, so it’s okay if you feel a bit confused on this.

You may not be sure of which one is correct, or how to spell the one that you mean in the first place.

Is there a way to remember?

Well for starters…

According to and grammarly blog.

Bare means naked, or to uncover or reveal.

Bear means to carry, endure, or tolerate, and it can even mean an animal as well.

This helps to give you the definitions, but let’s take it one step further.

Looking At This In Context

As with any word like this, you really need to see this in context.

You want to understand how each of these words works or how it looks and feels in conversation.

Sometimes breaking it down, comparing the two, and then looking at each word in context can be quite helpful.

So let’s look at this as a point of comparison, and in the context it is intended.

  1. The cupboard is bare: This means that the cupboard is bare, and so it would be the- b-a-r-e version. It means that it’s empty or that there is nothing in it.
  2. The right to bear arms: In this instance it means to carry, and therefore it is b-e-a-r. This means that you can carry it with you or keep it.

So today we aren’t focusing on the animal the bear, but rather we are focusing on other meanings for bear and bare.

However there are also a lot of times the animal bear is used in conversation, and that’s another focus but not for today.

Common Phrases or Idioms

As it can help to see a word in context, it can also help to see it in commonly used phrases.

There are several phrases or idioms that use either of these words, and seeing them can help you to decide which one is appropriate in conversation.

Here are some common phrases/idioms, so see how they are used and then practice each one.


  • Bear in mind: This means to remember or to bring to your thoughts. It’s almost as if you have to carry something in your head. You might say “Now bear in mind–I’m not getting out until 6, so I may not be there on time.”
  • Can’t bear it/bear something: Think of this as enduring something. So if you say you can’t bear it, this means that you can’t stand it. You can’t endure it at all, or it’s too difficult. Whereas to bear something is to be able to do something. It’s something you are able to do without any problems, even if it seems challenging. You could say “I can’t bear the smell coming down the hall. We have to say something to the neighbor.” Another way of saying it could be “She had to bear the harsh weather conditions without her heaviest coat.”
  • Bear the brunt of something: It means that you have to deal with the most difficult thing. You may have had to carry something heavy or difficult, and been the one to deal with that struggle. You could say “I had to bear the brunt of the bad weather–my flight was cancelled.”


  • Bare your soul: This is putting yourself out there and really working to reveal who you are. This is difficult and it means you have to open yourself up and maybe even make yourself vulnerable. You might say “You can’t hide forever. Bare your soul and you will draw people to you.”
  • With your bare hands: This is usually about building something or creating something all by yourself. It’s starting from scratch and building the whole thing from the beginning to end. You could say something like “I built this chair with my bare hands.”
  • Bare bones: This means it’s simple and there is nothing extra about it. This is nothing special or out of the ordinary, but rather it’s scaled back. You could say “Now we just moved in, so it’s really just bare bones over here before we start hanging things up.”

When you see each of these in their most commonly used phrases it starts to become clear.

You can begin to differentiate which one is which, and therefore you will know how to use the right one in conversation.

Why Is This So Important?

Though the word sounds the same, sometimes it may be confusing.

That’s not too uncommon in English, so you may ask yourself why is this so important in the first place?

These two words are HUGE in the English language, and that means you will hear them all the time.

We taught you some important ways to use them, but you will hear other contexts as well.

This will all help you to make some good guesses of meaning, and then you can use them properly in conversation.

With words like this, you may make some mistakes but you will learn over time and with practice which is right or wrong.

These words would be an easy way to increase your vocabulary score on IELTS as well because they indicate a deeper and more natural understanding of English.

These words can be a confusing part of conversation, but you will learn how to make them work if you try them out.

The more that you practice, the easier aspects of conversation like this in English get for you.


Listen for bare and bear in your conversations, as that’s typically the best starting point.

Try to think as it’s being spoken– is it the animal being spoken about or one of the other definitions?

Try to use these phrases today, and see how this works for you in your conversations.

It’s a matter of practicing, and sometimes you may make mistakes with the proper definition.

Over time this will become easier, and you will know which version to use and this will all help your conversational skills.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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