October 02, 2012

The Bare Naked Bear

I know I spend a lot of time here defining pairs of homonyms, but there are so many of them that get abused and confused, and I feel I need to defend them. Most of the sets I write about are prompted by seeing them misused, generally in people's message board posts or on one or another of the websites I frequent.

Today the homonyms are bear and bare.

Bear, as a noun, is a large furry animal which may or may not be interested in ripping you to shreds on sight. That was one big, ugly bear! As a verb, bear means to hold up or support something, to bear a burden, or carry an object, to bear the Olympic torch, or to bring forth young or fruit to bear a child, or a tree which bears fruit.

Bare as an adjective means naked (bare legs), without the usual coverings (bare walls), or unadorned (the bare truth). If you look at all of these meanings, they can all be replaced with the word naked. The girl's naked legs, the naked walls, the naked truth. They are all without anything extra added.

Remember the difference this way: if you can substitute the word naked, use bare. Both of these words  have an e at or near the end. On the other hand, you would never say an ugly naked, and you would never consider carrying the Olympic torch naked. If you wouldn't do it naked, get the e as far from the end as possible...spell it bear.


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