Sheer vs Shear? Which One Should You Use in a Sentence?

sheer vs shear

Homophones are terms that sound alike and/or have similar spellings but vary with their meanings. But the contrast in their definitions is seldom as stark as the discrepancies between “sheer” and “shear”. So, what do “sheer” and “shear” mean?

“Sheer” means “extremely thin”, “transparent”, “completely”, and a host of other things based on how it’s used in texts. “Shear” denotes “to cut or clip”. Both words can be used as a noun, verb, adverb, etc. Suppose the intended meaning is “cutting or clipping”, use “shear”. If not, use “sheer”.

“Shear” almost always means the same thing. “Sheer”, however, could assume myriad meanings. Keep reading to learn more about the two terms’ purposes in sentences in a bit more detail and how you can incorporate them in your texts.

sheer white curtain

“Sheer” – Definition 

As mentioned above, the term “sheer” can mean a host of things. The meaning it ends up assuming depends on the role it takes in sentences. As a noun, it means “a ship’s position riding to an anchor”. The term also means to be “pure or unmixed” or “free from adulterants”.

The verb “sheer” means “turning suddenly or deviating from a course”. In other words, it denotes “an unbroken perpendicular expanse”. The term also means “up or down straight without a break”.

The adjective form of the word denotes “transparent or fine, complete or pure”, as in “a sheer fabric”, which means “see-through or very thin”. The word’s adjective form could assume slightly different meanings based on the noun it’s describing. For example:

  • “Sheer stupidity” means “unqualified or utter stupidity”.
  • “Sheer joy” denotes “unadulterated or pure joy”.
  • “Sheer determination” can mean “acting solely or with determination only”.
  • “Sheer cliff” signifies “an extreme cliff”.

The adverb form of the term means “altogether” or “completely”. It can refer to emphasize the enormous size, degree, or amount of a given thing.

“Swerve” is a commonly used synonym for the term “sheer”. A few other synonyms of the word include “abrupt”, “steep”, and “precipitous”. Despite being quite similar in their meanings, “sheer” stands its own and is at times not replaceable even by its closest synonyms.

For example, the word “abrupt” implies “sharpness and suddenness”. The term “sheer” doesn’t signify that, irrespective of the texts it gets used in.

“Shear” – Definition 

The word “shear” means “to cut or clip”. When the forces by “shears” (a large cutting tool) are applied, the two adjacent parts or components of a body tend to slide in a direction opposite to the plane of contact.

Besides the meaning “removing hair or fleece by cutting or clipping”, “shearing” can also mean or could be used in contexts that denote “cutting a car into two halves”.

Based on how it gets incorporated into sentences, “shear” could assume slightly varied meanings, similar to “sheer”. For example, “to cut” or “to clip” is the meaning when the term is used as a verb. When used as a noun, “shear” denotes “the process or act of clipping or cutting”.

In the materials science and physics realm, “shear” denotes “the stress generated by specific forces, causing layers in a given substance or material to move away”. In other words, it could mean “slicing a given thing at an angle”, which is not entirely related to “shearing sheep”.

Using the Term “Sheer” in Writings 

The word “sheer” can serve as an adjective, verb, or adverb in texts. Based on the word form or type, the context in which the word gets used could change.

The phrase “sheering away from traffic” uses the term as a verb. In this phrase, “a sheer silk outfit”, the word is used as an adjective. The adjective form of the word could also be used in sentences to mean “very steep”. The phrase “sheer drop” conveys that.

Some of the other phrases that use “sheer” include “sheer folly”, “sheer ignorance”,

The term “sheer” is primarily employed as an adjective in texts, typically referring to a thing that’s extraordinarily steep or see-through. For example:

  • The cliff barrier prevented the tourists from coming too close to the sheer drop.
  • Her sheer t-shirt was barely concealing her inners.

As mentioned above, “sheer” could also be used in sentences to mean “complete” or “utter”. For example: 

  • My sheer luck ensured I was there when it mattered.
  • The kid looked at the celebratory fireworks with sheer excitement.

The following sentence uses the term as a verb: 

  • The plane sheered south, skirting the storm system in the process.

The term “steered” could also be used in the above sentence in place of “sheered”.

shear word in dictionary

Using the Term “Shear” in Texts 

The term “shear” can be used in sentences either as a verb or a noun. When used as a verb, it means “to clip” or “to cut” – for instance, “shear the hedges”. The tool used for shearing is referred to as “shears”.

“Shear” is at times also used to refer to the “sheep shearing process”. For example:

  • The old sheep has been sheared multiple times in the past. 

As mentioned above, “shear” can be used in scientific texts. Therefore, phrases such as “shearing forces” and “shear stress” are not relatively standard in science-based journals and articles.

Though the word could mean different things in specific avatars, those varied meanings are only slight variations or almost refer to or relate to “cutting, trimming, or clipping”. For example:

  • She continually shears the bushes so that the lawn looks well-trimmed and tidy always.
  • The farmer used shears to trim the animal’s coat.

The singular term “shear” pretty much always denoted a range of cutting tools. Not to mention, the word with the meaning has been in use for ages. When used in the plural form, “shears” always denotes “scissors”, a much bigger one at that.

Not Getting Confused Between “Sheer” and “Shear” 

Since there’s just a single letter distinguishing “sheer” and “shear”, it’s not that difficult to get confused between the two terms or use them interchangeably. It’s imperative to use the two words correctly, or in contexts they belong, as the opposite could completely upend the meaning or intended message of any sentence. 

If you’re having trouble or will not mind some help delineating the two terms, a mnemonic trick can help. In other words, focus on the letter “a” in “shear”. 

The capital letter “A” looks like open scissors. “Shear” always means “to cut or clip”. Since scissors are used to “cut” things, too, connect the meaning and purpose of the two to remember the definition of “shear”. Not to mention, if the discussion is not about “cutting a thing”, use “sheer” instead – i.e., if the word to be used is either “sheer” or “shear”. 

As mentioned above, the term “sheer” could take up a few more meanings than “shear”. If the mnemonic trick above didn’t do it for you, learning the two terms’ distinct meanings can help you remember the difference between them and when to use either of the two in your texts.

Example Sentences with the Term “Sheer” 

The following are sentences using the term “sheer” as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.,

  • We got window shades as passers-by were able to see right through the sheer curtains.
  • The car sheered so that it could avoid hitting the kangaroo on the road.
  • She won the match courtesy of her sheer grit and determination.
  • It was a sheer cliff.
  • The product comes in seven sheer shades to cater to buyers with diverse tastes.
  • The things that truly stand out about the play are the topsy-turvy humor and sheer whimsicality.
  • He chased the forest beasts and outran them by his sheer speed.
  • After applying all the makeup, set it in place or top it up with a sheer, loose powder.
  • Your best bet is the sheer, cream blush.
  • The gown she wore that night was a tad too sheer.
  • The sheer number and range of loose compact powders available on the market are just mind-boggling. 
  • The foundation helps you achieve the sheer look, enhancing your skin’s natural undertones.
  • That is unlikely to happen as we are all aware of the drop’s sheer immensity being too great.
  • A longboard would be ideal for sheer cruising.
  • The sheer color is spectacular and offers some buildable coverage.
  • If you’re looking for a more natural and sheer look, grab some shimmer wash shadows for the eyes.

hands holding shears remove wool from sheep

Example Sentences with the Term “Shear” 

The following are sentences incorporating the term “shear” in its various inflections:

  • The vehicle was sheared in half.
  • The propeller just sheared off the body.
  • The shepherd sheared wool from the sheep every six weeks.
  • A good shepherd shears their sheep and not skins them.
  • The cruiser was shearing through the water.
  • Shearing twice a year is advisable in some of the hotter regions of the country.
  • The farmers were shearing the sheep in hordes.
  • The tyrant was shorn off the power, much to the delight of the people.
  • The car sheared off the sign.
  • She knows more than a thing or two about shearing a sheep.
  • He usually shears sheep during spring.  


A sheep doesn’t usually take more than two months to grow wool. Whenever the time comes, make sure you “shear” its natural hair and not “sheer” it.

If the word to be used is an adjective, it’s invariably “sheer” and not “shear”. In other words, it’s always “sheer determination” or “sheer dominance” and not “shear excellence” or “shear passion”.

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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