Grin and Bear It: What Does It Mean and How to Use It


grin and bear it

The phrase “grin and bear it” easily gets confused for another group of words with similar spelling and sound, “grin and bare it”. It is, in fact, not uncommon even for seasoned writers or native English speakers to mix up the two. No points for guessing – the phrase “grin and bear it” is an actual idiom and “grin and bare it” is just another phrase or assortment of words.

To grin and bear it means to put up with hardships without any resistance. The person going through the difficulties has no option but to put a smile on because they cannot do anything about it. For example, “I don’t like this place, but I guess I have no other option but to grin and bear it.”  

Keep reading to learn how the phrase gets used in modern texts, how it was used in ancient literature, and why it’s almost blasphemy to use the phrase “grin and bare it” in its place.

a bear peeking

What Does the Phrase “Grin and Bear It” Mean? 

The idiom “grin and bear it” basically means accepting an unpleasant or tough situation without much fuss or complaining. The ones going through the plight know they can do nothing to make their situation better and, therefore, choose not to complain. 

If they do whine, they might end up making the situation only worse. For example, a prince married to a girl he is not in love with, due to his royal background or familial pressure, is basically grinning and bearing it.

Another version of the idiom is “to grin and abide”. However, this alternative phrase is antiquated or not as commonly used as it was used in the past. Several historical texts have the phrase mentioned a lot more than the more recent version.

backstory

The Backstory of the “Grin and Bear It” Phrase 

The literal meaning of the word “grin” is to smile. And “to bear” means “to endure”. In the “grin and bear it” idiom, however, the word “grin” doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean. The word “grin” has its origins in the Old English word “grinnian”, which means showing one’s teeth in anger or pain. When used in the phrase, the word “grin” means to tolerate something. 

The phrase, as mentioned earlier, has been around for centuries. One of the ancient uses of the phrase could be found in the year 1794, in Erasmus Darwin’s medical work “Zoonomia”. And if you could go back a couple of decades further, you would find the phrase being used in W. Hickey’s book Memoirs, which came out in 1775. 

Zoonomia is an important piece of medical literature. The book’s author Erasmus Darwin was not just a physicist but also a philosopher and poet. Another fascinating fact about the English physicist is he was Charles Darwin’s grandfather. For those who don’t know, Charles Darwin was a geologist, biologist, and naturalist from England who made significant contributions to the field of evolutionary science. 

Erasmus Darwin is also the mind behind another popular phrase “the survival of the fittest”. Through Zoonomia, Erasmus shares his thoughts on a range of medical topics, right from psychology to anatomy. In the book, he throws light on how evolution and the survival of different species are related. And while sharing his thoughts, the author happens to use the phrase in focus, in this sentence: 

  • “We have a proverb where no help could be had in pain, ‘to grin and abide’.”

Though not verbatim, the expression “to grin and abide” carries the same meaning. This also ties back to the point that the “to grin and abide” phrase is ancient.

writing something down

How to Use “Grin and Bear It” Properly? 

Here are a few sentences that show how to use the “grin and bear it” phrase properly:

  • The employees had no option but to grin and bear it.
  • Try grinning and bearing it for a few more minutes.
  • I borderline hate rap music, but when the radio plays it, I simply grin and bear it.
  • Can we alter our response strategy now, or do we still have to simply grin and bear it?
  • If I was in your situation, I would just grin and bear it.
  • Why don’t we grin and bear it as a team?
  • Some end up paying the full price by grinning and bearing it.
  • She would have the cast on her arm for another eight weeks, so she must grin and bear it.
  • He was joining us on the tour, so I had no option but to grin and bear it.
  • After the debate, the team came to the conclusion that they would not descend into paranoia but grin and bear it.
  • A delayed flight is not the best situation to be in, but I would have to just grin and bear it.

The current usage or modern sense of the phrase is not as sinister as some of its earliest meanings. In the past, the phrase typically was perceived as a snarl or the act of literally showing one’s teeth. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the word “grin” was invariably used in an unfavorable contradiction to a happy smile or in a derogatory manner. 

The ancient meaning of the word “grin” has been retained in the phrase “grin and bear it”. In other words, the connotative associations with showing teeth in anger or pain have been kept intact.

Why “Grin and Bare It” is Wrong? 

The phrase “grin and bare it” on its own is not incorrect, but it does not exist as an idiom per se. And if its intention is to communicate the meaning the phrase “grin and bear it” conveys, its usage is completely incorrect.

The phrase “grin and bare it” when used in lieu of “grin and bear it” would mean “to wear a smile and disrobe”. Whether the phrase with the word “bare” in it is right or wrong depends on the context in which it is used.

Here are a couple of paragraphs with the two phrases individually:

“You are too under-prepared for the final exam to specialize in the field. Unfortunately, you have no other choice or cannot write the exam sometime later. You should, therefore, grin and bear it.” 

“In 30 minutes, you will be meeting a proctology specialist. She will have to put you through a digital rectal test to learn more about your condition. So just grin and bare it.”

differences

The Difference Between “Bare” and “Bear” 

The word “bare” means naked, lacking clothing, lacking adornment, or exposed to view. When used as a verb, “bare” means to uncover, make bare, or to expose. “Bared” is the past tense of the word. 

The word could also be used in other words. For example, the words “barehanded” or “bare-knuckled” mean hands without gloves. Here are a few sentences with the word “bare” in them all by itself: 

  • Don’t walk bare feet on the glass.
  • Do not bare your soul.
  • The book has images of physicians performing autopsies using their bare hands.
  • The crisis costs for each citizen is $20,000 at a bare minimum.
  • If a branch or tree is bare, it means it has no leaves.

The word “bear”, however, means to put up with something. It may also denote the brown furry animal, but there is usually no confusion in meanings. When the word “bear” denotes the animal in a given sentence, it’s quite clear or the reader is extremely unlikely to misinterpret the word.  

Here are a few sentences using the word “bear”: 

  • I couldn’t bear seeing her getting punished.
  • Bear with me for some more time.
  • I cannot bear it anymore.
  • The large roof collapsed and many were evacuated since the heavy snow was a bit too hard to bear.
  • She couldn’t bear the silence any longer.

The word “bear” by itself has no adjectival meaning. When not denoting the large mammal, however, it turns into a verb with different meanings, which do not mean exposing or uncovering. Some of its meanings are “to support”, “to hold”, “to yield”, and “to give birth to”. 

The past tense form of the word is “bore”. For example, “The tree bore fruit”. “Borne” is its past participle – for example, “The tree has borne fruit”. 

In a few other phrases – such as “bear out”, “bear down”, and “bear up”, the word “bear” is grammatically correct. The word is also right in the following phrases: 

  • Bear down on
  • Bear in mind
  • Bear fruit
  • Bring to bear
  • Bear the brunt of

Kindly note, the word “bare” would make sense in none of the above expressions or phrases.

Conclusion 

Some people may easily get confused between the phrases “grin and bear it” and “grin and bare it” because at times they both may sound correct. But if it’s going to be an idiomatic expression, the former or the phrase with the word “bear” in it is always the one to go with.

If you’re looking for synonyms similar to the “grin and bear it” idiom or a phrase that pretty much means the same thing, “take it like a man” and “grit one’s teeth” are a couple of them.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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