Can the word dear replace expensive, as in "That new T.V is too dear"? The dictionary says so, but I was completely unaware that it had that connotation. I want to use it in writing because it's a shorter, simpler sounding word with a regular comparative/superlative, dearer and dearest, but it doesn't sound idiomatic at all. No one round these parts would say that.

Does anybody else in the English-speaking world say this? I tried searching a corpus but all results came back with dear used as a term of endearment.

  • 14
    Dear is frequently used to mean expensive.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 23:58
  • 3
    A topical joke that plays on exactly the usage you've specified: "A guy down the pub offered me 8 legs of venison for £200. I had to turn him down, it was too dear" -- possibly better spoken as "too dear" as in, too expensive, and "two dear" as in two dear have 8 legs. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 8:31
  • 7
    @ImmortalBlue: Just a nitpick, but the animal is spelled deer; so your explanatory snippets should be "too dear" and "two deer".
    – LukeH
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 10:23
  • 7
    "No one round these parts would say that." - so take that into account. Write for your audience.
    – AakashM
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 10:25
  • 8
    Growing up in the U.S., the lyric "Every summer we could rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear." (When I'm Sixty-Four) never made any sense to me. "If the cottage isn't too...cute? Huh?" Then I started reading British novels, and eventually moved here (the UK). Heard the song on the radio and went "Ah! Dear! Of course!" Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 17:35

6 Answers 6


"Dear" is perfectly correct in the sense you propose. It is commonly heard in the United Kingdom, very much less so in the parts of the U.S. with which I am familiar. The choice for you, then, becomes one of register. In other words, depending on your purpose in writing, you may wish either to avoid a locution with which your audience is not familiar or to use such a locution to give an air of "foreignness" to your text.

  • 2
    Growing up in Texas I heard this exact use rather frequently, specifically in the context of discussions about markets and trade, but very rarely in casual conversation while shopping. So it may come down to knowing your audience in more detail than just their nationality. (They say being a Texan is almost like being an actual American (except in the movies); I think the fo'real Americans I knew growing up understood those discussions.)
    – zxq9
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 5:40
  • 1
    @zxq9 - Odd, I've never been able to understand a Texan.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 13:22
  • 4
    Speaking from the UK (in the south if it makes a difference), I would say the word would be perfectly understandable for that usage but would sound old fashioned (not quite archaic but certainly older) and a little informal.
    – Vality
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:04
  • 1
    Quite common in Australia. I've never heard it elsewhere except for dramatic effect.
    – Joel
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:58
  • 1
    "It is commonly heard in the United Kingdom" Maybe fifty years ago. Now it's commonly heard in the United Kingdom from your grandmother. And, I concede, speakers of certain Midlands dialects. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 0:03

Dear is not unusual (UK) although it can sometimes sound quaint and old-fashioned. I probably use it less often than 'expensive' (60/40).

  • 2
    It's also more common in north England than south, in my experience. Partly this may be because local/older colloquialisms seem to be holding on longer in north England, which is generally more rural and has a lower turnover of population.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 12:43
  • 3
    In the South of the UK I'd say that "dear" as "expensive" is uncommon, but understood, and always sounds old-fashioned.
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 13:53
  • Quite common in Ireland too — definitely wouldn't sound old-fashioned, in my opinion — which I think tallies with what @Graham's experience regarding north England Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 15:05
  • 4
    @Graham Um. They have cities in the north, too. And most of the people in the north live in them. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 9:26
  • Yeah @graham's generalisation seems a little excessive: most of Northern England's population lives in major population centres. "Not London" doesn't equate to "Rural" - perhaps you've heard of Manchester and Leeds (the UK's second and third cities by population), Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham (where "dear" is pretty common, even if not officially "The North".
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 14:25

Its usage to indicate something expensive is quite old as shown from its etymology:

Dear (adj.):

  • Old English deore "precious, valuable, costly, loved, beloved," from Proto-Germanic *deurjaz (cognates: Old Saxon diuri, Old Norse dyrr, Old Frisian diore, Middle Dutch dure, Dutch duur, Old High German tiuri, German teuer), ultimate origin unknown. (Etymonline)

Usage note:

  • Expensive / dear / costly
  • These adjectives are all synonyms though they are used in slightly different ways and in different collocations. It is also the case that dear as an adjective has two meanings, it means both expensive and well-liked, as well as featuring in expressions such as Oh dear! or in letters as in Dear Sir. The problem with costly may be that it looks like an adverb as it ends in -ly. This is confusing as most adverbs end in -ly, but costly is an exception and is an adjectiveote.


  • 1) very much:

    • She loves him dearly.
    • I would dearly like/love to know what he was thinking
    • dearly beloved (= used by a minister at a Christian church service to address people)
  • 2) in a way that causes a lot of suffering or damage, or that costs a lot of money

    • Success has cost him dearly.
    • She paid dearly for her mistake.


  • I have to disagree with the note on "dearly." It can modify verbs to imply things came at high cost, such as "dearly won." dearly is so stultified that "I would dearly like" is no more modern than usages meaning expensive.
    – stevesliva
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 5:53
  • @stevesliva - that's an interesting point, but would 'dearly won' imply money or emotions?
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 6:19
  • 3
    Or "it cost him dearly" Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 6:19
  • 1
    @Josh61 - war literature. see also pyrrhic victory. So blood, not money. I do not mean to imply this sort of usage is common. Just that I think of any use as somewhat stilted.
    – stevesliva
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 6:22
  • 2
    Wow! Thanks for this info. All the more reason to start using it. So instead of "The most expensive" I'll start writing "The dearest" It still sounds funny to my ears, but maybe through repeated use it'll eventually seem normal.
    – William
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:59

It has become something of an anachronism. It does mean exactly what the OP thinks of it though..."the cost of responding to the lawsuit was too dear, considering the possible outcomes."



For example, "That deal cost me dearly".


Direct comprehension:

dear -> valuable
too dear -> too valuable
was too dear -> costs too dear
costs too dear -> costs too much of what is valuable
costs too much of what is valuable -> costs too much money


that TV was too dear -> that TV costs too much money
  • 5
    "Dear" means "expensive", not "valuable"; "valuable" is something different. "Dear" is an adjective, and hence "costs too dear" doesn't make sense. Your final comparison switches tenses. All in all, I'm afraid this is a very low quality answer.
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 13:52
  • Dear means valuable, not expensive. Are not your loved ones dear to you?
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 15:18
  • 2
    My loved ones are dear to me, but I wouldn't attach a value to them. Besides, the point I was trying to make is that value is not the same as price - a TV bought at a discount might be worth more than was paid for it, and might hence be valuable but not dear. dictionary.reference.com's page on "dear" mentions "expensive" as definition no5; "valuable" is only mentioned as part of the word's origin, not in usage of its current form.
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 15:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.