For me, if someone is brave, it has always meant that they face certain dangers or situations, even though doing so is something that scares the living daylights out of them. For instance, if a normally timid person, one who would normally run away from danger, were to risk his life to save a child being attacked by a dog, I would consider that person (usually considered a wimp) to be very brave.

Merriam-Webster defines brave:

having or showing courage

A rather weak definition. But, it defines courage:

mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

Which tends to agree with my original premise. But, Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary defines brave:

showing no fear of dangerous or difficult things

Which I think is silly, because a lot of people I would consider brave, did their brave acts despite having fear.

Random House Dictionary defines brave much the same as M-W, but defines courage:

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

Which means that to be brave, one cannot have fear. In direct opposition to M-W, which says (in a roundabout way) that withstanding fear is brave.

So, this has lead me to be confused as to whether or not I use the word "brave" in the same sense as others. What do the words "brave", and "courage" really mean?

  • there's a difference between "having fear" and "showing fear" so there's really no contradiction IMO Oct 21, 2010 at 9:08
  • Is there a quote with brave and courage in the same sentence? Then, maybe we would know.
    – Kris
    Jan 5, 2012 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.

Samuel Johnson, quote provided by Vincent McNabb in the comments.

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.

C.S. Lewis, sourced on Wikiquote.

To my mind, at the testing point implies a test. There's no test if you don't feel fear. I like the M-W definition you give. Note, though, that the Cambridge dictionary says that bravery is defined by not showing fear. It says nothing about not experiencing fear.

Off the top of my head, I'll say that both a brave person and a courageous person may experience fear. The brave person won't show the fear; the courageous person might. The brave are, then, a subset of the courageous. Take that with a grain of salt: I just made it up, but it sounds roughly right to me.

  • "Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other." - Samuel Johnson. You may want to add that into your answer :-) Oct 20, 2010 at 21:23
  • I really love your answer. It has certainly changed the meaning of the two words in my lexicon (slightly)... Thanks. Oct 20, 2010 at 21:24
  • Thanks for the Samuel Johnson quote. I've added it in to replace the previous opening paragraph: "I was looking for a Samuel Johnson quote about courage being the primary virtue, as without it, all other virtues will fail. I didn't find it, but here's a C.S. Lewis quote from Wikiquote."
    – TRiG
    Oct 20, 2010 at 22:52

Clearly there are many denotations of these terms, so any response is likely to be a subjective one, but my interpretation of the words is similar to what Mark Twain's in Pudd'nhead Wilson

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave."

I interpret that to mean that doing something when you have no fear doesn't make you brave. Depending on the situation it may make you foolish or foolhardy, but not brave. Your initial definition works for me in that sense.

  • As you say, it is particularly subjective. I am tempted to accept your answer, but I feel it would be better to wait and see if anybody else has some insightful input. Funnily enough, I haven't read any of Mark Twain's works, but I will make that a priority in my reading list. Aug 15, 2010 at 22:51
  • 2
    Not feeling fear in a dangerous situation marks you as a fool. Not displaying fear when you feel it marks you as a good actor. Doing what is necessary despite feeling fear marks you as brave. Feb 2, 2011 at 1:29

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