Word Confusion: Shears versus Sheers

Posted July 3, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

The slicing nature of shears to the delicacy of sheers. It’s such a contrast of purpose from the hardness of a cutting implement to the daintiness of a transparent fabric.

I suppose the sheer drop could compete against the shear break or shift of a structure, but it’s a strain.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Shears Sheers
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: shear

“Hedge Shears” is Nerijp’s own work [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Technically, a pair of garden shears. You may think of them as garden clippers.

“Sheer Stockings” is Tranquil Garden’s own work [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Noun; Plural Noun 1;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 2

Plural noun and third person present verb: shears
Past tense: sheared, shore (I think shore is past tense in Australia and New Zealand)
Past participle: sheared, shorn [Australia & New Zealand] Gerund or present participle: shearing

Adjective 3; Adverb
Noun 4; Plural Noun;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 5

Plural noun and third person present verb: sheers
Past tense or past participle: sheered
Gerund or present participle: sheering

Cut, break off

Strain in the structure of a substance produced by pressure when its layers are laterally shifted in relation to each other

Plural Noun:
A cutting instrument in which two blades move past each other, like scissors, but typically larger

Scissors used for tailoring

Garden shears

Verb, intransitive:
To cut or cut through something with a sharp instrument

To progress by or as if by cutting

[Mechanics, Geology] To become fractured along a plane as a result of forces acting parallel to the plane

[Chiefly Scottish] To reap crops with a sickle

Verb, transitive:
Cut the wool off a sheep or other animal

Cut something off with scissors or shears

Break off or cause to break off owing to a structural strain

[Attrib.] Nothing other than unmitigated (used for emphasis)

[Of a fabric] Very thin, diaphanous

Perpendicular or nearly so

[British; obsolete] Bright

  • Shining


  • Down or up very steeply
  • Vertically

[Archaic] Completely

  • Right

A sudden deviation from a course

A very fine or diaphanous fabric or article

[Shipbuilding] The curved fore and aft line formed by the uppermost plank of a boat 4

[Nautical] Position of a vessel riding toward its anchor

Plural Noun:
Very fine or diaphanous curtains or draperies

[Nautical] An apparatus consisting of two masts, or legs, secured together at the top, and provided with ropes or chains and pulleys

Verb, intransitive:
[Nautical] Swerve or change course quickly

  • Avoid or move away from an unpleasant topic

Verb, transitive:
Typically of a boat or ship swerving or changing course quickly

[Shipbuilding] To give sheer to a hull

The wind shear is bad at this altitude.

Shear forces often result in shear strain.

Plural Noun:
I’ll need the shears to cut through this.

Verb, intransitive:
The cruiser sheared through the water.

Shear stress results in slippage and translation (Tulane University).

Along some faults, rocks are sheared or drawn out by ductile deformation along the fault (Tulane University).

We’ll be shearing the crops soon.

Get those sheep sheared.

The derailleur sheared and jammed in the rear wheel.

Verb, transitive:
I’ll shear off all that fleece.

In that last recession, the richest man in the U.S. was shorn of nearly $2 billion.

That bolt was almost completely sheared off.

The sheer gall of the man!

They used a sheer, white chiffon for the curtains.

she giggled with sheer delight.

Marriage is sheer hard work.

The sheer ice walls loomed above us.

The ridge fell sheer, in steep crags.

She went sheer forward when the door was open.

“When looking at the boat hull from the side, sheer is the line where the hull meets the gunwale” (Nautical Terms Relating to Boat Hulls and Boatbuilding).

We took a sheer back to port.

She took a big sheer to starboard.

Her sheer broke when she swung right.

Plural Noun:
I want the sheers on those windows.

“The sheers has one motion on its steps describing an arc, and is inclined from the perpendicular to a greater or less extent as required, by slacking or hauling on the guy-rope or fall of the sheer-tackle” (Knight, 2,141).

Verb, intransitive:
The boat sheered off to beach further up the coast.

Her mind sheered away from images she didn’t want to dwell on.

Verb, transitive:
The boat sheered away from the sandbank.

He sheered off from the topic.
“Shoot the ship ahead of her anchor, or sheer her clear of it, upon the same tack as she is meant to shoot up the next tide…” (Blunt, 85).

Adjective: shearless
Noun: shearer, shearleg
Adjective: sheerer, sheerest
Adverb: sheerly
Noun: sheer clamp, sheer strake, sheerness

If you’re interest in tons more nautical terms using sheer, check out more of Knight’s book on Google.

History of the Word:
1 1610s sceran, originally meaning cut through with a weapon, is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch and German scheren, from a base meaning divide, shear, or shave.

It is also a unit of measure of the age of a sheep.

1850 in the scientific and mechanical sense of type of strain.

2 Old English sceran, scieran with a past tense of scear and the past participle scoren meaning to cleave, hew, cut with a sharp instrument; cut (hair); shear (sheep), from the Proto-Germanic *sker- meaning to cut.

Compare to the Old Norse and Old Frisian skera, the Dutch scheren, the German scheren meaning to shear, which are from PIE *(s)ker- meaning to cut, to scrape, to hack.

Compare these with the Sanskrit krnati meaning hurts, wounds, kills; krntati meaning cuts; the Hittite karsh- meaning to cut off; the Greek keirein meaning to cut, shear; the Latin curtus meaning short; the Lithuanian skiriu meaning to separate; the Old Irish scaraim meaning I separate; and, the Welsh ysgar meaning to separate or ysgyr meaning fragment.

3 Middle English, in the sense of exempt, cleared, is probably an alteration of the dialectical shire meaning pure, clear, which is from the Germanic base of the verb shine.

In the mid 16th century, the word was used to describe clear, pure water and very thin fabric.

4 Late 17th century and probably from the noun shear.

5 Early 17th century and is perhaps from Middle Low German scheren meaning to shear.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

The image is part of a how-to on “How to Sew Sheer Fabric” on Student Designer (it used to be The Sewing Corner) by Sabrina Wharton-Brown.

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