While several curvature expressions have been used in the literature, some of these expressions differ from basic geometry definitions and lead to kinematic coupling between bending and shear deformations. This paper uses three different elastic force formulations in order to examine the effect of the curvature definition in the large displacement analysis of beams. In the first elastic force formulation, a general continuum mechanics approach (method 1) based on the nonlinear strain–displacement relationship is used. The second approach (method 2) is based on a classical nonlinear beam theory, in which a curvature expression consistent with differential geometry and independent of the shear deformation is used. The third elastic force formulation (method 3) employs a curvature expression that depends on the shear angle. In order to examine numerically the effect of using different curvature definitions, three different planar beam elements are used. The first element (element I) is the fully parameterized absolute nodal coordinate formulation (ANCF) shear deformable beam element. The second element (element II) is an ANCF consistent rotation-based formulation (CRBF) shear deformable beam element obtained from element I by consistently replacing the position gradient vectors by rotation parameters. The third element (element III) is a low-order bilinear ANCF/CRBF finite element in which nonzero differential geometry-based curvature definition cannot be obtained because of the low order of interpolation. Numerical results are obtained using the three elastic force formulations and the three finite elements in order to shed light on the definition of bending and shear in the large displacement analysis of beams. The results obtained in this investigation show that the use of method 2, with a penalty formulation that restricts the excessive cross section deformation, can improve significantly the convergence of the ANCF finite element.