Grammar

Fair or Fare?

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Should it be fair or fare? Both words sound alike but they have different meanings, so let’s take a closer look at this potentially confusing pair.

When it’s time to choose between fair or fare, there are a few different definitions you must sort through.

The two words are homophones, which are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

So it’s time to take a look at the meanings for each of these words.

Fair

To be fair, (pardon the pun), this is the more commonly used of the two words. This word claims several definitions, depending on whether it’s used as a noun or an adjective.

When I was a kid, for example, I looked forward to every October because of the South Carolina State Fair. The state fair, for those who’ve never been, is a kind of carnival that comes every year. It features a variety of rides, games, exhibits and attractions.

For a kid, it’s the closest you get to a major amusement park like Disney World, Busch Gardens or Carowinds. (Although you don’t exactly trust the rides at a fair like you would in a more permanent setup.

So one definition of fair is a kind of carnival.

But fair can also refer to a different kind of exhibition. Job fairs gather potential employers who are searching for potential employees. Book fairs assemble displays of books for readers looking for new titles to purchase.

But as an adjective, the word fair has 11 different definitions. Count ‘em! Eleven!

The one you’re surely most familiar with is being impartial. But fair can also mean open to attack, criticism or ridicule, as in “fair game.” Another definition is mediocre, as anyone who brings home a report card with a grade of fair might recall.

Fair also means light-skinned: many redheads have fair skin.

When it comes to weather, fair is a good thing: it means not stormy. (Unless of course, you like storms, in which case “fair weather” isn’t necessarily good.

Other definitions include “ample,” “pleasing to the eye,” or “conforming with established rules.”

Check out the multiple definitions at Merriam-Webster here.

Fare

Here’s where it gets a little less complicated.

As a noun, fare can mean the fee or cost paid for travel, such as cab fare, or a “range of food,” such as “vegetarian fare” at a restaurant.

It can also serve as a verb, referring to performance, as in “how someone fared in a fight.”

Here’s more from our dictionary friends.


There’s not necessarily an easy way to differentiate the two because of the multiple definitions involved.

Some things, unfortunately, you just have to commit to memory…or keep a reference nearby…just in case.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.