Fair vs. Fare: An Unbiased Breakdown

Fair - Girl Crying  vs Fare - Paying to get on a bus
    Fair - Girl Crying vs Fare - Paying to get on a bus
    Girl: ONYXprj / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Bus: Marisvector / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

Does fair or fare mean "beautiful"? What about the money you pay to a bus driver — is that fair or fare? Even though these words sound exactly the same, they're not the same word at all. Learn the different meanings and grammatical functions of fair and fare, and you'll have a fair chance of avoiding grammar mistakes in the future.

When to Use Fair vs. Fare

Fair and fare are homophones, meaning that they sound similar but are spelled differently. They also have different definitions and uses in a sentence.

  • Use fair as an adjective, adverb or noun.
  • Use fare as a noun or a verb.

Even if you can't remember all the definitions of each word, remember this: only fare is a verb, and only fair is an adjective.

The Many Meanings of Fair

It's a fair bet that you use the word fair quite often in your everyday conversation. But if you had to spell it, would you pick the right one each time?


How to Use Fair as an Adjective

If you're trying to decide between fair and fare to describe something, the answer is always fair. While fair has many adjective meanings, fare has none. You can describe something as fair in the following ways:

  • equal or unbiased - The referee's decision was fair for both teams.
  • attractive - Sir Lancelot fell in love with fair Guinevere.
  • pleasant, not cloudy - We planned a picnic to enjoy the fair weather.
  • very light-skinned - My sister sunburns easily because she is so fair.
  • pretty good - My textbooks are in fair condition after the semester.

How to Use Fair as an Adverb

When fair describes a verb, it's functioning as an adverb to describe an action done without cheating. For verbs such as play or fight, you'd use fair, but with other verbs, you'd say fairly. For example:

  • It's no fun to play with someone who doesn't play fair.
  • In order to fight fair, you can't bring friends to help you.
  • Shauna divided the cake fairly among the children.

Another use of fairly as an adverb is to mean "somewhat" or "reasonably" when modifying an adjective. For example:

  • I'm fairly certain that he lives around here.
  • At 5'9", she's fairly tall.
  • The dogs get along fairly well.

How to Use Fair as a Noun

There's only one definition for fair as a noun: "a public event or exposition for entertainment or commerce." You may see it spelled faire in this context, but that's the old-fashioned spelling for the same concept. Examples of fair in a sentence include:

  • We rode the Ferris wheel and ate cotton candy at the state fair.
  • Let's go to the job fair and see if any interesting employers are hiring.
  • Have you ever bought fabric at a craft fair?
  • I love dressing up and attending the Renaissance Faire every year.
  • My favorite author will be signing her book at the Book Fair this summer.

Fair Idioms

Another popular way to use the word fair is in an idiom. Many English idioms and proverbs include the word fair, such as:

  • all's fair in love and war - you can break the rules in cases of love and conflict
  • fair and square - everything is equal for everyone involved
  • fair game - acceptable to attack or criticize
  • fair play - playing by the rules
  • fair to middling - average, not great
  • fair-weather friend - someone who is only a friend when things are good
  • getting a fair shake - having a reasonable chance to succeed
  • getting your fair share - receiving as much as everyone else has
  • the fairer sex - an old-fashioned term to describe women
  • turnabout is fair play - you can treat others the way they've treated you

How to Use Fare in a Sentence

As you can see, there are many ways to use fair in a sentence. Fare is less versatile: you can use it as a noun and a verb, but that's all.

Using Fare as a Noun

When you use fare as a noun, you're likely referring to the cost of traveling somewhere. For example:

  • Bus fare just went up to $1.50.
  • First-class is the most expensive type of airfare.
  • Children only cost half fare at the train station.

Fare may also refer to the food or entertainment at a venue. For example:

  • Burgers and fries are typical fast food fare.
  • Let's sample the fare at the new Greek restaurant.
  • The fare at the local theater features dancing, drama and lectures.

Using Fare as a Verb

The word fare is synonymous with go or proceed when used as a verb. You may have heard the phrase "fare thee well," or "farewell," which means "go well." Other examples of fare as a verb include:

  • How did the baseball team fare against last year's champions?
  • I didn't study for the math test, but I fared okay anyway.
  • Noah had hoped to fare better with his new boss, but it didn't go well.

Fare Thee Well in Your Grammar Journey

Language arts may seem unfair at times, especially when two words sound identical but don't have the same meanings. However, the more you learn about these tricky word pairs, the better you'll fare in your writing! Keep the lesson going with a short guide on when to use autumn vs. fall when describing seasons.