Which Word Wednesday: Raise vs. Rear

By February 6, 2013 language One Comment

british-vs-american-figures1Word debates are often impassioned affairs, each side loyal to some set of rules imparted to them by an elementary school English teacher. So it is with the debate over which word we should use to describe parents bringing up their children.

Do parents raise children or do they rear them? Some say that only plants are raised; children are reared—a perfect selection for today’s Which Word Wednesday. Let’s look at the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

raise :: verb
lift or move to a higher position or level; increase the amount, level, or strength of; cause to occur or be considered; collect, levy, or bring together; bring up (a child)

rear :: verb
bring up and care for (a child) until they are fully grown, esp. in a particular manner or place

Both raise and rear refer to bringing up a child, although this is listed as the fifth definition for raise—perhaps that means it is less acceptable? hmm.

Runner-writer-editor friend Becky says that she uses both words; context determines if she chooses raise or rear. In her mind, raising children describes the everyday actions of parenting (giving food, clothing, shelter, education, etc.) whereas rearing children describes the nurturing aspect (shepherding, guiding, character building, etc.). That makes sense to me.

And Mark Davidson gives additional insight in Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage:

According to an old saying, “The British raise plants and animals, the they rear children, but Americans raise all three.

That’s true. Raise has become completely acceptable in referring to the upbringing of children in Standard American English. 1

Sounds to me like the raise versus rear debate is a matter of British English over American English.

What’s my WWW verdict? We live in America, so I say we use American English. Also, kids need to be raised and reared. (This is why parenting is so demanding.)

What’s your verdict? Are children raised or reared? Do you prefer British English or American English? Do share in the comments.

www2013Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 449.

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