Can't Bear It: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 2, 2023

The phrase "can't bear it," means that the person cannot tolerate or endure a situation, event, or emotion due to its overwhelming intensity or displeasure. People say it to express extreme discomfort, annoyance, or distress.

In short:

"Can't bear it" means to be unable to tolerate something.

What Does "Can't Bear It" Mean?

The idiom "can't bear it" signifies an intense negative response or emotion directed towards a person or situation. It conveys that something or someone is so irritating, distressing, or unbearable that one finds it extremely difficult to endure or tolerate.

For instance, when a person can't bear the sight of blood, they may experience feelings of nausea or dizziness. Similarly, if someone can't bear the thought of losing a loved one, they might feel overwhelmed with sadness or fear at the mere idea of such a loss.

  • It can express strong dislike or annoyance towards a situation or person. For instance, "I can't bear it when he chews with his mouth open."
  • It's also used to express extreme discomfort or pain. An example might be: "I can't bear it; this toothache is too painful."
  • Lastly, it can denote emotional distress or sorrow, such as "I can't bear it, thinking about her suffering."

Where Does "Can't Bear It" Come From?

The phrase "can't bear it" traces its roots back to the use of the word "bear" in Old English, where it meant to carry or hold up. The meaning eventually expanded to include carrying or holding up under a burden, challenge, or difficulty. Therefore, to "not be able to bear" something came to mean being unable to endure or tolerate it. This expression has been in use for several centuries in English literature and conversation.

Historical Usage

"Madam, I can neither eat nor rest, till I - I can't mend them - you know I have tried to do it a hundred times, and - it hurts me to see an end of this affair. I can't bear it. 'Tis not your ill hours alone that disturb me."

- The British Drama: Comedies, 1804

10 Examples of "Can't Bear It" in Sentences

To better comprehend the idiom's usage, let's examine its use in a variety of contexts:

  • I can't bear such deceit any longer. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
  • She can't bear it if anyone criticizes her cooking.
  • She was gloating, but I couldn't bear her attempts to rub it in - it was just too much.
  • They can't bear it when their favorite TV show ends.
  • As a team, we can't bear the pressure, but we know we will reap the benefits eventually.
  • I can't bear it any longer. He didn't even bat an eye when the police took his daughter.
  • I know you can't bear it when the weather is too hot.
  • She can't bear it when someone talks during a movie.
  • He can't bear it when he is interrupted.
  • Losing out and having to chalk it up as experience, I can't bear it.

Examples of "Can't Bear It" in Pop Culture

From books to movies, the idiom "can't bear it" often appears in popular culture:

  • "We Can't Bear It!" is the title of one of the episodes of the 2018 TV series Bunk'd.
  • "Can't Bear It" is a song by Chinese singer-songwriter Li Ronghao. This particular track serves as the ending credit theme song for the Chinese television drama "You Are My Sunshine" (also known as "He Yi Sheng Xiao Mo," which translates to "Silent Separation").
  • "I Can't Bear It" is a charming and relatable board book by Carrie Hennon. It presents the story of a little girl named Clare, who can be quite obstinate when she doesn't want to do something.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Can't Bear It"

There are several synonyms and phrases that can be used as alternatives to "can't bear it," depending on the context:

  • Can't stand it
  • Unable to endure it
  • Can't take it anymore
  • Can't put up with it
  • Fed up with it
  • Can't handle it
  • Can't stomach it
  • Can't abide it
  • Can't tolerate it
  • Find it unbearable

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Can't Bear It":

  • What is the meaning of "can't bear it"?

The phrase "can't bear it" usually means being unable to tolerate or endure a situation, often due to its intensity, discomfort, or displeasure.

  • What is the origin of the phrase "can't bear it"?

The idiom originates from the Old English meaning of "bear," which signifies to carry or hold up. Over time, it has come to represent an inability to carry or endure a burden or difficulty.

  • Can "can't bear it" have positive connotations?

Generally, "can't bear it" has negative connotations, indicating something difficult or unpleasant to tolerate or endure. It's not usually associated with positive contexts.

  • Can I use "can't bear it" in formal writing?

"Can't bear it" is acceptable in both formal and informal contexts. However, in more formal or academic writing, it might be more appropriate to use terms like "unable to tolerate" or "find it difficult to endure".

  • How can I replace "can't bear it" in a sentence?

You can replace "can't bear it" with phrases like "can't stand it," "can't tolerate it," or "find it unbearable," depending on the context.

  • Is "can't bear it" a British or American idiom?

"Can't bear it" is a universal English idiom, understood and used in both British and American English, as well as other English-speaking regions.

  • Do people use it in everyday conversation?

Yes, "can't bear it" is a common idiom and is frequently used in everyday conversation, especially when expressing strong negative emotions or reactions to discomforting situations.

  • Can "can't bear it" describe temporary situations?

Yes, "can't bear it" is often used to describe temporary situations. It typically signifies a present or imminent circumstance that one finds difficult to endure.

  • Can I use it to describe people?

Yes, "can't bear it" can be used to describe reactions to individuals. For example, "I can't bear him when he acts so arrogantly."

  • Can I use it in a literal sense?

While "can't bear it" is predominantly used in a figurative sense to indicate psychological or emotional discomfort, it can be used in a literal sense to denote physical discomfort or pain, such as "I can't bear this heat."

Final Thoughts About "Can't Bear It"

The expression "can't bear it" captures intense dislike, a strong aversion, or a complete inability to put up with something. It's like shouting, "This is just too much for me!" The phrase has become widespread in the English language, used in literature, movies, and everyday conversation.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Can't bear it" is a catchy idiom that means you're seriously fed up with something or find it too hard to handle.
  • This snappy phrase fits all sorts of scenarios, spotlighting the struggle or discomfort someone's going through.
  • Feeling creative? Try its synonyms, like "can't stand it," "can't tolerate it," and "can't endure it," to add some spice to your conversations.

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