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I am trying to understand the difference between beware of and mind when they have the meaning of to be on one's guard. Are they always interchangeable ?

I'll try to explain what bothers me, but these are only examples and I would welcome any other examples to explain the difference between the two.

If someone said to me without further context: "mind the dog" I would understand this person is going away and wants me to look after her or his dog. But could we say indifferently :

  • Beware of the dog, he bites.
  • Mind the dog, he bites.

In this other instance:

  • Beware of falling rocks.
  • Mind the falling rocks.

I have no hesitation (perhaps because falling rocks do not need to be looked after?)

I had always seen : mind the step, and mind the gap but I have just googled beware of the step and beware of the gap and had lots of hits for both.

And I am even more puzzled because google even returned some hits with beware of your head which sounds really strange to me. Does it sound strange to English native speakers too?

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The look after, tend sense of mind is semantically quite a long way from the beware sense. I think it's pretty obvious how the word comes to spread into those meanings, but I can't see many people would misunderstand which one was intended in any given context. Mind you, I can see other contexts (such as this one) where it might not be quite so obvious to a non-native speaker exactly what I had in mind when I used the word. –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 17:49
    
Beware [of] something dangerous, and mind something that is in danger. This applies very well in almost any possible situation. –  Daniel Oct 10 '11 at 0:45

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When you say "mind" you are saying "be aware of" or "be careful with" not to be confused with "beware of".

They might overlap, depending on why you may want to be aware of something. You might need to "mind the dog" because he bites or you might need to "mind the dog" because you are about to absent-mindedly step on it's tail.

"Beware of your head" is strange sounding. "Mind your head" means to be careful with your head. "Beware of" in this context implies that your head is going to do something bad to you, whereas "mind your head" is meant to say be careful not to let something bad happen to your head.

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I think it's helpful to paraphrase beware of as be wary of, rather than be aware of. There are lots of idiomatic usages that favour either beware or mind, but in the end they're both just warnings - the main difference is that in general beware conveys a greater sense of the need for caution. Either because something is more likely to present a problem, or because if it does, the consequences might be more serious. –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 17:39
    
I paraphrased "mind" as "be aware of", not "beware". "Beware" implies a danger of some kind, especially to the person being warned. "Mind" can imply a danger, but doesn't necessarily. You might say "Mind your manners" but you would never say "Beware your manners." –  Joel Brown Oct 9 '11 at 18:34
    
Absolutely. I was just making the point that an easy way for OP and others to differentiate mind and beware could be to paraphrase them as be aware and be wary*. Though whilst it's true that mind doesn't always imply a clear and present "danger", the same applies (less often, admittedly) to beware. Google gives lots of hits for quotated "beware of thinking", but the consequences of ignoring whatever advice they go on to give are usually somewhat less than life-threatening! :) –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 19:06
    
I think Joel's answer is right, "mind" has a somewhat less negative connotation, while not being entirely neutral. –  kylben Oct 9 '11 at 19:38

If you’re French, Laure, it might help to compare some of those expressions with what I believe might be the French equivalents. Beware of the dog is English for Chien méchant or Prenez garde au chien. Mind the dog could mean the same, but it is more likely to be found in contexts where it means Gardez le chien. Beware of falling rocks might appear on English road signs where the French would be Attention! Chute de pierres.

Beware of your head would be very unusual. It would normally be seen, on a sign above a low doorway, for example, as as Mind your head. Mind the gap is heard on the London underground as passengers get on and off and it is also written on some platforms.

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