What Does Bear Down Mean?

Bear Down Meaning

Definition: To press upon with weight; to work hard towards a goal.

When used with on or upon, as in to bear down on, this can also mean to quickly move towards something.

Origin of Bear Down

The first sense of this expression, to weigh down upon, dates back to the 1600s. The third sense, meaning to rapidly approach is more recent, and only originated in the 1700s.

This third meaning comes from nautical origins, as in a ship bearing down upon a smaller ship, or a storm bearing down upon the sailors.

To help you remember this meaning, imagine if an actual bear (the animal) were

sitting on you. You would certainly feel a great weight pressing down on you.

Alternatively, imagine if a bear were running towards you. It would be very fast and imposing. Although there is no evidence that the animal bear is related to these expressions, it can help to visualize them.

It is more likely that these meanings come from the other definition of bear, which is to support a weight.

See also bear vs. bare, bear with me vs. bare with me, and bearing vs. baring.

Examples of Bear Down

bearing down meaning

In the dialogue below, two friends are talking about a problem one of them is having at work.

Ezekiel: I need your advice about a problem I’m having at work. I’m under so much pressure to get everything done on time. I feel like I have the weight of all this responsibility bearing down on me. If I fail, I’ll let my whole company down.

Maggie: You sound very stressed. Maybe you should try to find another job, or start working part time, temporarily.

Ezekiel: That could be a good idea.

define bear down

In this example, two friends are driving when their car stops on some railroad tracks.

Tyrion: Oh no! The car stalled. I can’t get it to start.

Mila: This is the worst place for it to have stopped! We’re right in the way of that oncoming train. Hurry up and move the car! The train is bearing down on us!

Tyrion: Got it! It’s moving.

Mila: Thank goodness!

More Examples

This excerpt is about bad weather.

  • A snowplow clears the highway as a spring snow storm continues to bear down on much of Colorado on May 18, 2017 in Evergreen. –Denver Post

This excerpt is about a pitcher and his throwing strategy.

  • “I had a good two-seam [fastball] today, I was able to throw sliders when I needed them,” Flexen said. “I just really [tried to] bear down, get an out and limit the damage.” –New York Post


The phrase to bear down means weigh heavily upon something, to strive towards, or to rush quickly towards.