Sheer vs. Shear

Let’s discuss homophones sheer vs. shear. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Shear and sheer are homophones. Shear can be used as both a noun and a verb. Sheer can be used as an adverb, adjective, or verb. 

The Proper Use of Shear

When shear is used as a verb, it means to clip or cut something. For example, you can say that you shear the plant. If you are using shear as a noun, then it means the action of clipping or cutting. A pair of shears is the tool used to shear something. 

There is are two additional uses of the word shear. In England, shear can be used as a noun to refer to the removal of wool from a sheep. For example, one might say that a sheep has been through a lot of shearing. 

In physical science, shear refers to a force that causes a substance to split into more than one part. So scientists might refer to “shearing forces.”

The Proper Use of “Sheer”

When sheer is used as a verb, it means to turn suddenly or change from a course. One example is saying you sheered away from the bully’s fists. If you are using sheer as an adjective, then it means transparent, complete, or fine. One may refer to a sheer blouse. However, when this same word is used as an adjective, it means nearly straight up and down. So, a tall mountain may have a sheer rock face. This versatile word can also be used as an adverb to mean completely or totally.

Example Sentences

As you can see, sheer has many meanings. But, shear in both verb and noun form refers to clipping or cutting:

  • She sheared the hedges until they were in a straight line.
  • The sheep’s wool was removed with shears.

Here are some examples of sheer used as an adjective. Remember that it refers to something that is either very steep or see-through:

  • Her bra strap was seen through her sheer shirt.
  • The mountain climber was nervous about the sheer drop in front of her.

In other contexts, sheer is used like a synonym for complete or total:

  • He won the game by sheer luck.
  • She watched her first snowfall with a look of sheer joy on her face.

If you’re using sheer as a verb, then it means to turn away from something:

  • The driver sheered away from the bicyclist.
  • They sheered out of the path of the raging bull.

Help Remembering Sheer vs. Shear

Final word on sheer vs. shear: these homophones are easily confused. What’s the only difference between their spelling? It’s the letter A. Here’s a helpful tip: A looks like a pair of scissors. So, when you see an A in shear, remember that it refers to cutting. If you’re not writing about cutting something (and you’re not using a scientific term), then you probably need to use sheer instead.

the word shears with the a represented by scissors to show the difference between shears and sheers


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By Patrice Riley

Patrice Riley is the pen name of Dr. Deborah Riley. She is a retired English professor that enjoys grammar, literature, and all things writing.

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