Plucking up courage: talking about being brave

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a woman looking brave and determined as she prepares to do a difficult trick in a skate park
HRAUN / E+ / GettyImages

by Liz Walter

Everyone has times when they have to do things that scare them, and there are lots of different ways to talk about this.

When someone is brave, they show bravery. Another word for this is courage and the related adjective is courageous. Be careful with the pronunciation of these words – you can hear a recording of them with both British and American voices if you click through to the dictionary entry:

Police praised the bravery of people who came forward to give evidence.

He showed great courage throughout his illness.

She took the courageous decision to move abroad.

Guts is an informal word for bravery. If we say that something takes guts, we mean that you have to be brave to do it:

It takes guts to stand up to a bullying boss.

When people try to make themselves feel brave before doing something that scares them, we can say that they pluck up (the/their) courage or screw up the/their courage. In British, but not American, English, Dutch courage is a humorous reference to drinking alcohol to make yourself feel braver:

I’m trying to pluck up my courage to ask him out.

He couldn’t screw up the courage to jump.

He had a quick beer for Dutch courage.

If someone is fearless, they don’t feel afraid, while daring or intrepid people aren’t afraid to try new and frightening things:

She is absolutely fearless on the ski slopes.

The hostages were freed in a daring rescue.

Only the most intrepid travellers make it to this part of China.

Bold and valiant are both slightly literary words, while plucky is rather informal, and often refers to people who are brave in a situation where it is unlikely that they will succeed:

She was a bold politician who introduced radical reforms.

He was known as a valiant warrior.

The plucky youngster dragged his mother to safety.

If someone is man/woman enough to do something, they are brave enough to do it, while if we think someone should be braver, we might tell them to man up. It is possible to use ‘woman up’ with the same meaning in a slightly jokey way:

He wasn’t man enough to admit to his mistake.

You need to man up and take responsibility for your family.

If someone has to do something scary, especially something that requires a lot of concentration and could easily go wrong, we say that they need nerves of steel:

You need nerves of steel to drive on these mountain roads.

I hope you have found these words and phrases useful, and if you want to do something scary, take advice from the famous book by Susan Jeffers to feel the fear and do it anyway!

19 thoughts on “Plucking up courage: talking about being brave

  1. Johanna Makgalanyane

    It took me a nerve of steel to be courageous to go on with the course of MBS even though I am 65yrs old to continue boldly because education doesn’t have age limit

  2. Denis

    Well written!
    I’d like to add ‘gutsy’ and ‘dauntless’, and ‘liquid courage’ is the US’s equivalent for the UK’s ‘Dutch courage’.

  3. Leszek

    Of course you can’t name them all, but feisty and ballsy (US) are informal words often used of women sometimes in a slightly patronising way. On the more formal side, audacious is a notable omission from this otherwise excellent post.

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