Bare - bear

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Bare and bear are two homophones that should not confuse students in Higher Education. Alas, they have been known to do so.

  • Bare is a simple adjective, with a related verb. The basic meaning is 'uncovered'. Bare skin means 'with no clothes on', and a bare person is a nude; trees are bare in winter, and the earth is bare after harvest. A room with no furniture is bare, and a lecturer might say of an assignment that 'it is bare of ideas'. (This is not a compliment.) Soft toys much loved by children - as well as favourite clothes - may become threadbare.
    • The verb 'to bare' means 'to take the covering off': 'to bare one's head' is to take off one's hat - a mark of respect from men in days gone by.
  • OED lists six meanings of the noun bear, of which three are still of possible use in academic English - two only to those working in literature or history; and a verb with several areas of meaning.
    • A bear is a mammal which comes in several species - polar bear, grizzly brear, brown bear and so on.
    • In the jargon of the Stock Exchange and other forms of financial markets, a bear is someone who calculates that prices will fall, and sells investments accordingly. Someone who gambles in the opposite direction, buying shares in the expectation that prices will rise, is called a 'bull'.
    • Bear is also an older form of the word 'barley'. Both the grain, in real life, and the word, in literature, are used for 'beer'.
    • A pillow-bear (or '-bere') is an older word for a pillow case.
  • The principal meaning of the irregular verb 'to bear' is 'to carry'. (Its forms are given at Bear (irreg verb).) It is used both literally and figuratively, in a number of ways. Three further main meanings branch from this:
    • 'to endure', 'to tolerate' or 'to support' - some pain, discomfort or distress;
    • 'to push (down) on', or 'to lean'. A wrestler can bear down on an opponent - who, if he is not skilful enough, must just 'grin and bear it' (in the sense above);
    • 'to carry' in the sense of producing, or bringing forth. Trees bear fruit; female mammals bear young. The development of sense from the principal meaning must be obvious to all pregnant women - those who bear children.
You may want to see born - borne for a note on the past forms of the verb.