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Back up - v.tr - to support

Bear out - v.tr - to prove right or justified, confirm, corroborate.

In the following sentences, are "bear someone out" and "back someone up" perfectly interchangeable, all of them meaning "prove right, confirm"?

  1. Scientific evidence ......... the claim that stress and peptic ulcer are related.
  2. The evidence .......... my original suspicions.
  3. I'll ....... your story ...... if they ask me about it.
  4. I hope you are going to ........ what I told them.
  5. That's exactly what happened. Susan will ..... me .....
  6. My colleagues will ..... me .... on this.
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    I'd say that they can be interchanged in 1 and 2, but only "back up" fits in 3-6. – Jim Sep 24 '14 at 16:39
  • There's a feeling of bear out being able to confirm trueness where back up is support of an entity or position regardless of veracity. – SrJoven Sep 28 '14 at 14:11
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+50

Yes, sometimes they are interchangeable, but in most cases they are not.

They are different as to their subject.

Back up is usually used of a person, but could be used of the story, testimony, evidence presented by the person.

Bear out is almost always used of the evidence, testimony etc, not of the person presenting it. (but see * below)

So only back up is possible for your 3, 4, 5, 6. Either may be used for 1 and 2 (but in my view, bear out indicates a more complete support than back up).

Added in an edit:

*There is an exception: the phrase bear me out does seem to be used with people as the subject (I think it can almost be regarded as an idiom).

The BNC (British National Corpus) has

  • three examples of bear me out, all with a person as the subject,
  • one example of bear him out, with 'records' as the subject
  • only three out of about 50 examples of bear out have a human subject.

In COCA (the Corpus of Contemporary American English),

  • eight out of eleven instances of bear me out have a human subject
  • only one of twenty instances of bear him out has a human subject, and
  • possibly two of about 130 instances of bear out have a human subject (possibly two because the context isn't quite clear from the extract).

[I've also changed "always" to "almost always" above, because this data does show that it is occasionally used with a human subject even apart from the idiom bear me out.]

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    Agreed, especially on the last point: If bear out is used, then you are proven to be right. If back up is used, then you are more likely to be right, but not guaranteed or proven. – Hellion Sep 24 '14 at 19:31
  • I looked up some sentences with "bear out" in several dictionaries and they all fit your explanation, except this one: dictionary.reverso.net/english-definition/bear%20out Is it wrong? – Centaurus Sep 24 '14 at 21:45
  • No, bear me out seems to be a special case. I've edited the answer accordingly. – Colin Fine Sep 25 '14 at 19:23
  • It's the first time I offered a bounty and I'm disappointed. Although your answer is really very clear, sensible and referenced, and was likely to be accepted anyway, I wanted to read other opinions and I thought offering a bounty would attract several answers. – Centaurus Oct 4 '14 at 0:25
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I would say no, "to bear someone out" is not the same as the original context in modern usage. To bear someone out is to put up a persons inanity for a time. Then hopefully make counter points to change said persons ignorance and or put in place correct facts. It means to take on the burden of a persons ignorance for a time then correct. To bear some one out is the act of listening to there issues and then correct them.

to support the truth of something, or to support someone's statement or claim: The facts don’t bear out your fears. The evidence so far simply does not bear him out.

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/bear-out-something-someone

To back somebody up is to agree with and support them from the get go.

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