'Courage' vs 'Bravery': What's the Difference?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 16, 2023

'Courage' vs 'bravery' is often thought to be interchangeable in meaning, but is that really the case? So what's the difference, and when should you use each one? Let's find out.

In short, 'bravery' describes a strength of character that allows one to act despite their fear, whereas 'courage' comes more from the heart. But they are pretty similar in meaning and can often be used interchangeably.

What's the Difference Between 'Courage' vs 'Bravery'?

'Courage' and 'bravery' are nouns. Their associated adjectives are 'courageous' and 'brave.'

The difference between these two words is very subtle, if not inexistent most of the time. But if you perform a search querying the difference between the two, you'll yield a number of results willing to hypothesize on how they differ. So what gives?

Notably, these articles say that bravery demonstrates a lack of fear or consideration about danger, whereas courage is the ability to take action despite any fear.

I wouldn't dream of stating that these speculations are incorrect, and there's always value in discussions around semantics and how language has evolved over time to suit our needs. I also believe that we appropriate words in a way that represents what they mean to us. That's the beauty of language: it's flexible.

But in a strictly grammatical way, there isn't much difference between the words' courage' and 'bravery.' In fact, reputable dictionaries denote them as synonyms.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines 'bravery' as:

  • the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty: the quality or state of being brave: COURAGE.

The Collins Dictionary calls it:

  • the quality of being brave, courage, and valor.

The Cambridge Dictionary gives this example in its 'bravery' definition listing:

  • You have shown great courage in coming to testify.

Another synonym of the two words is 'valor,' defined by the Collins Dictionary as marked courage or bravery.

What Does 'Courage' Mean?

Despite my previous statements, it can be interesting to look at the etymology of these words to understand further where they come from and their intended meaning.

According to Etymonline, 'courage' comes from the Old French word corage, meaning "heart."

We can therefore relate the word to a strong heart.

Others have equated courage to a personality trait, whereas bravery comes more in the heat of the moment.

What Does 'Bravery' Mean?

As per my last statement, bravery implies more impulsivity. The word comes from the Italian bravo meaning "brave, bold," originally "wild, savage."

Though the words 'wild' and 'savage' have negative connotations, we can also consider the positive connotations associated with them, such as boldness, a definite synonym of 'bravery.'

So perhaps bravery implies less reflection and more of an urgent need to do what's right at the moment, despite the risks.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Courage' and 'Bravery'

Now let's look at the pronunciation of each word, so you know how to say them when in conversation.

The word 'courage' rhymes with 'marriage' and 'image.' If we were to spell it how it sounds, it would look something like this:

[ kur-idj ]

And the International Phonetics Alphabet spells it like this:

/ ˈkɜr ɪdʒ /

As for the word 'bravery,' it rhymes with 'savory' and 'bakery.' This is how it would look if spelled the way it sounds:

[ brey-vuh-ree ]

The IPA spells it like this:

/ ˈbreɪ və ri /

When to Use 'Courage' and 'Bravery'

Let's take a look at some examples of these two words used in context to give you an idea of when it's appropriate to use them.

I'll use them interchangeably, and I'll use both the noun and adjective forms.

There's a thin line between bravery and foolishness.

I don't know where I got the courage to do that.

The boys were very brave; they didn't back down or compromise on their values.

Sure, there have been a few bumps on the road, but you've been very courageous, and you've come out on the other end.

You fought with the utmost bravery, and I'm proud of you.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on the difference between 'courage' and 'bravery.' To summarize:

  • 'Courage' and 'bravery' are adjectives
  • The two words are interchangeable
  • Feel free to adopt each word in the way that feels most true to you

And if you'd like to learn the differences between more words like these, head to our Confusing Words blog.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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