Courage vs. bravery

Last time we talked about the word hero—what it means and what it takes to be one. In this post, we’re discussing two words that are often connected to heroism: courage and bravery.

Today the words are used interchangeably, but a look to their history reveals an important difference.

First let’s look at current definitions.

Bravery is the “quality or state of being brave,” and Merriam-Webster, in its unabridged online version, defines brave as “resolute in facing odds; able to meet danger or endure pain or hardship without giving in to fear.” The unabridged dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength enabling one to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty firmly and resolutely.”

It’s worth noting that here Merriam-Webster also defines brave as “having or showing courage.”

Etymology
The current definitions are very similar. Yet, when we look at how courage and bravery came into the English language, a distinction shows.

Merriam-Webster notes that courage is linked historically to cœur, the French word for heart. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning “brave, bold.” Bravo, interestingly enough, originally meant “wild, savage,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Meaning
There is a quote that goes “The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.”

That’s the main takeaway when you consider the etymology. Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Bravery can be dangerously close to stupidity, to wild and savage.

Courage, however, takes something deeper. It takes heart. Courage is donating a kidney to your sister because you love her so deeply. Courage is a doctor or a nurse choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because they want to relieve human suffering.

Bravery is eating an earthworm sandwich because your buddy dared you.

What do you think?
Is there a difference between courage and bravery? Or should we use them interchangeably? Let me know in the comments.

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20 thoughts on “Courage vs. bravery

  1. Courage is the resolution to do something despite feeling fear or having reservations.

    Bravery is ignoring fear or lacking fear in situations where others might be afraid.

  2. great post!
    I would think that bravery is more impulsive (hence the close partnership to stupidity) and an inherent quality, while courage is a consciously deliberated act.

  3. Courage = long term bravery
    Brave = short term courageousness

    I’m not sure the worthiness of the risk taken should be part of the difference though. It takes bravery to jump on a grenade to save your friends, yet it is commendable.

  4. I have thought that Stupidity was the definition you used applied to Bravery, Bravery was your second definition that you applied to courage, and Courage was the ability to endure to the end of a difficult or dangerous task and not fain, or quit, thus, to not become disCOURAGEd, which would be the opposite of courage or the loss of courage.

  5. Terror is being afraid of the unkown. (what is in the dark with you, aliens etc) You dont know how it can hurt you. Bravery is the fighting against of terror.
    Fear is being afraid of the known (tiger, murderer, spider) you know how it can harm you. Courage is the fighting against of fear.

  6. Pingback: Bravery and Courage for the Days Ahead – Willow and Reads

  7. I just find “bravery” a clumsier word to use. Yet it always seems to be employed in news reports where I feel the word courage would sound better.
    “Bravery” is a noun derived FROM the adjective “brave.”
    “Courage” is the noun in its own right and “courageous” is the adjective that derives from that.
    In a sentence, isn’t the noun slightly more important than the adjective, because it is more specific and an adjective can be replaced with another?
    I think! Willing to be shown the error of my ways!

  8. Bravery is killing the poisonous spider because you know you can. Courage is killing the poisonous spider because you don’t want your best friend to get bit, despite your arachnophobia.

  9. I believe courage is internal (a mental and emotional resolve) and that bravery tends to be shown in a more physical way. For instance, courage is long-term, a part of your personality. Bravery is reacting to a short-term physical situation. An example would be, joining the service during a war is courageous, attacking an enemy soldier from behind to save your buddy is brave.

  10. I tend to agree with the fact that they are close but structurally different. Courage begins where bravery ends.. whether bravery turns to heroism or sheer stupidity, you need courage to get out of both situations. Bravery allows you to get into the race but courage carries you through the race to win or lose gallantly. True champions need both! The righteous are as bold as lion. The word of God encourages.

  11. They are diffefent as I see it. Courage is the fundamental quality, developed and embedded in a person’s character over time – tempered by experiences, upbringing and morals. A courageous person can perform an act of bravery because of a pre-disposition of character. Another person could perform an impulsive act of bravery because of some clear and immediate stimulus, i.e. desperation, provocation and yes, even stupidity.

  12. I like the connection between courage and dis couraged. You are brave to tackle it. You are not discouraged if you carry it through to the end inspite of any odds and/or fear.

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