Q&A: Bear vs Bare

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, it’s the bare facts as we go bear grilling…

Q: Hi AWC, I’ve just received a text from Goldilocks…
A: Because corresponding with fairytale characters is a thing now?
Q: And I’m a bit confused about what she means…
A: What’s next? Snapchatting with the seven dwarves?
Q: Don’t be dopey. So, we were chatting and she’s sent through “bear with me” and one of those ambiguous “is-it-laughing, is-it-crying” emojis.
A: That emoji, we’ll have you know, was voted 2015 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.
Q: I don’t believe you.
A: It’s true – check it out here.
Q: Wow, okay. Anyway, so Goldie has sent through this statement saying “bear with me”. It was in response to me asking her to hurry up with her story about bowls and chairs and beds.
A: Ah okay.
Q: But now she’s sent this message and I think she really means “bare with me” – i.e. “just put up with my explanation a little longer”… I mean, there’s no way there is an ACTUAL bear with her.
A: You’re wrong.
Q: About what?
A: Well, let’s just start with the grammatical part. The phrase that you describe IS actually spelt “bear with me”. It uses the “bear” verb definition – which itself is rather broad, ranging from “to endure” (bear with me), through to “carry” (bear the strain), or even “producing” (this tree will bear fruit) to name just a few.
Q: Oh wow. So, it's not “bare with me” then, as that might imply something else entirely.
A: Yes. In fact, it’s actually easy to describe what “bare” means – essentially it’s all about being naked or exposing something.
Q: So I really need to stop writing that I will “grin and bare it”…
A: Definitely. You can get arrested for doing that. It should be “grin and bear it”.
Q: This is almost too much to… bear?
A: Correct!
Q: So, hang on then. I have a new problem.
A: You do indeed.
Q: Thanks to “bear” being both a noun (grizzly bear) and a verb, I can’t tell if Goldie is asking me to “bear with her” as she tells her story…or whether she is texting “bear with me” as a silent cry for help.
A: Exactly.
Q: Oh dear. What should I reply? How about just “LOL”?
A: That’s too cold.
Q: What about “Hey, you sure you don’t mean ‘bare’ with me?” And the winking emoji?
A: Waaaay too hot.
Q: Um, okay, what about “Do you mean ‘bear’ the noun?” – and that “pile of poo with eyes” emoji?
A: Just right.
Q: Okay. <WHOOSH> Sent. So, any other pointers on “bear” vs “bare”?
A: Well, the past tense for “bare” is “bared” and for “bear” it’s “bore”. The trick is to realise that “bare” has that narrow field of definitions. So any time you’re not sure which one to use, go with the naked test.
Q: I do that test every morning.
A: No, we mean if it doesn’t make sense in a naked/exposed context, then it’s likely “bear” is what you need.
Q: So, I would “bare my soul” while writing the “bare essentials”? And “bare my teeth” while telling a “barefaced lie”?
A: Exactly. And that’s about it. Almost everything else is “bear”.
Q: Examples then?
A: Sure. “Cross to bear”, “bear a grudge”, “bear arms”, “bear in mind”, “bear the burden”, “can’t bear to watch”, “more than she can bear”, “bear the brunt”, “can’t bear the sight”, “bear witness”, “bear a resemblance” and of course “bear with me”…
Q: Thanks. <PING> Okay, she’s replied to my query about whether it was a real bear.
A: What did she say?
Q: “Does a bear [pile of poo emoji] in the woods??” Hmmm, I guess it was a real bear after all. My bad. But she really needs to stop wandering through that forest.
A: Quite right.
Q: Okay, thanks for clearing up that confusion. I think I’ll go wolf down some porridge and see what Little Red Riding Hood is up to…

Do you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore this year? Email it to us today!

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