Fair is a noun and adjective, while fare is a noun and verb. Both words sound alike, but they have very different meanings.
What is the difference between fair and fare?
The word fair is primarily an adjective or noun that we use to describe something pleasing, favorable, just, or light-colored. For instance, someone might have “fair hair” (blonde, fine), or we might say someone is a “fair judge of character” (good, reasonable).
English speakers sometimes mistake fair for the verb fare, which Garner’s Modern English Usage defines as 1.) “To experience good or bad fortune or misfortune,” or; 2.) “To happen or turn out” (Garner 376).
Very different meanings, right? However, it’s easy to understand why these terms are commonly confused.
Fair and fare are homophones, which means we pronounce them the same, but they have different meanings and spellings. You might recognize similar homophones such as “cue and queue,” “principal and principle,” or even “accept and except.”
What about bid fair vs. bid fare?
English speakers often confuse fair and fare for the phrase “bid fair,” which means to ‘appear probable’ or ‘seem likely to.’
“Bid fare” is not a real phrase, but it is easy to mistake with “bid farewell” (also written as “bid adieu”). If that’s the case, the latter phrase means ‘to say goodbye.’
What does fair mean?
The word fair comes in many forms. We can use it as an adjective, adverb, or verb to describe something with a pleasing appearance, lightly colored, or even “appropriate.” However, there are times when fair is a noun that describes a public event similar to a rodeo or Saturday market, so there’s plenty of opportunities to mix ourselves up.
To avoid further confusion, let’s take a look at specific contexts where we’d use the word fair:
The adjective fair often describes something as ‘legitimate’ or ‘abiding by rules,’ although it also appears as an adverb to mean ‘without cheating.’ For example,
- “According to the rule book, that was a fair play.” (adjective)
- “The children played fair.” (adverb)
When the adjective fair describes something as just, it appears in the following phrases:
- All’s fair in love and war: when any method of winning is justifiable.
- By fair means: by any means necessary.
- No fair: unfair or not fair.
Adjective: Clean, ethical, honest, honorable, just, law-abiding, legal, moral, principled, sportsmanlike, sportsmanly, upright.
Adverb: Clean, ethically, fairly, honorably, legally, nobly.
“It’s fair to say…”
Similarly, the adjective fair can describe something as ‘appropriate,’ ‘equitable,’ or ‘reasonable.’ For example,
- “It’s fair to say that he doesn’t care for the well-being of others.”
- “The judge was fair and impartial.”
When fair describes something as just, it appears in phrases like:
- Fair and square: honest and straightforward.
- Fair deal: equitable treatment.
- Fair enough: an admission that something is reasonable or equitable.
- Fair’s fair: to request or assert a just deal.
Disinterested, equal, equitable, even-handed, impartial, indifferent, nonpartisan, objective, square, trustworthy, unbiased, unprejudiced.
Often indistinguishable from the first two definitions, the adjective fair can describe a ‘large amount‘ or a considerable size but not too big. For example,
- “I’ve had my fair share of desert, thank you.”
- “There’s a fair amount of people inside.”
Acceptable, adequate, ample, average, decent, middling, moderate, passable, reasonable, respectable, satisfactory, sufficient.
“A fair chance”
If something has a “fair chance” of occurring, that means there’s a likely probability something will happen. In this case, the adjective describes something as ‘having qualities that inspire hope.’ For example,
- “The program is competitive, but there’s a fair chance I’ll get in.”
- “If you believe in yourself, you’ll have a fair shot at anything.”
Auspicious, bright, comforting, encouraging, golden, hopeful, likely, optimistic, promising, reassuring, rosy.
As an adjective, fair can also describe something as lightly colored or even blonde. For example,
- “Those with a fair complexion may want to use a higher SPF.”
- “Not all Scandanvians have fair hair and blue eyes.”
Blonde, light, pale, platinum.
“The fairest of them all”
Remember when Snow White would ask her mirror, “Who’s the fairest of them all?” Well, she wasn’t inquiring about honesty or justice. Instead, she used the adjective fair to mean ‘attractive’ or ‘beautiful.’ The adjective is relatively uncommon for modern writers, but it does appear in the outdated phrase “fairer sex” (otherwise known as the female gender).
Alluring, attractive, beautiful, cute, fetching, gorgeous, handsome, lovely, pretty, stunning.
“A fair forecast”
When describing the weather, the adjective fair means ‘agreeable’ or ‘dry.’ However, we can also use the term as a verb to mean ‘to become fine’ or ‘to clear up’ (from a storm). For example,
- “It’s fair outside.” (adjective)
- “It looks like the storm is fairing off a bit.” (verb)
Bright, clear, cloudless, fine, mild, moderate, sunny, sunshiny, temperate.
Fair carries a distinct meaning when it’s a noun that describes a public gathering with various exhibitions or, more specifically, an amusement park with rides, games, or livestock. For example,
- “I met my new boss at a job fair.”
- “The artists exchanged paintings at the trade fair.”
- “Let’s go visit the donkeys at the state fair.”
Display, exhibit, exhibition, expo, exposition, presentation, production, show, spectacle.
What does fare mean?
English speakers use the word fare as a noun and verb, but we promise there are not as many different connotations as fair. Let’s take a look:
One way to use the noun fare is to reference the cost of public transportation (such as airfare or a bus pass). For example,
- “Taxi fares are very high in New York.”
- “If you don’t pay your fare, you’ll get kicked off the bus.”
However, there are times when the noun references someone who pays for public transportation. For example,
- “App drivers are required to have a certain number of fares per day.”
Noun 1: Cost, charge, fee, levy, payment, tariff, levy, toll.
Noun 2: Commuter, rider, traveler, voyager.
“A type of fare”
The noun fare often references ‘a range of food or entertainment’ within a particular style or genre. For example,
- “The restaurant provides your standard Italian fare.” (food)
- “The film was your classic John Waters fare.” (entertainment)
Noun 1: Board, chow, eatables, edibles, food, grub, provisions, rations, refreshments.
Noun 2: Album, artwork, book, exhibit, event, film, movie, performance, series, show, showcase.
According to the New Oxford English Dictionary, if we use fair within an adverbial phrase, it means ‘to perform a specific way for a particular situation’ or ‘over a particular period of time’ (“Fare” 627).
Oftentimes, this corresponds to how someone “gets by” or moves along in their day-to-day lives, but it can also reference how something performs overall. For example,
- “I think I fare pretty well on tests.” (present tense)
- “I’m faring alright these days.” (present participle)
- “The team fared badly.” (past participle)
Carry on, cope, do, make out, manage, progress, proceed, succeed, survive.
How to use fare and fair in a sentence?
Sometimes, the easiest way to learn new words is to read their usage in everyday English. Let’s take a look at how we find fare and fair within recent news coverage.
Published examples of fair
- “To be fair, millennials inherited the mess boomers left behind.” — Vox
- “Skincare, makeup, and haircare have all focused on the needs of those with the clichéd ‘fair skin and straight hair’ look for decades.” — Vogue
- “Can they attain a fair trial in the ‘Case That Was Heard Around the World’?” — Bloomberg Law
- “We see fair weather tonight, and sunshine for a good part of tomorrow as well.” — Ohio’s Country Journal
- “Women are, indeed, the fairer sex.” — The Economic Times
- “Iowa officials said last week they would wait until June to decide whether the fair would open.” — The New York Times
Published examples of fare
- “The group approves MTA policies and finances, such as contracts and fare increases, but has little oversight of its daily operations.” — NY Daily News
- “Indoors, meaning backyard greenhouses, peppers and tomatoes are standard fare.” — Anchorage Daily News
- “Hospitality properties in less populated areas that already had detached boarding options have fared well during the pandemic.” — Forbes
Additional reading: fair vs. fare
Are you itching to learn more about English grammar? The Word Counter has covered numerous other homonyms that are similar to fair vs. fare and many more. Enjoy!
Test how well you understand the difference between fair and fare with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: “Bid fare” means ‘to say goodbye.’
- The word fair is never a ___________.
d. None of the above
- The word fare is a never a ___________.
d. None of the above
- The word fair does not mean ____________.
b. Public event
- “Students _____________ well on the ESL worksheets, but not the test.”
- “Adam found a new job at the _____________.
a. Trade fare
b. Job fare
c. Trade fair
d. Job fair
- “Bid fair to.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Fair.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Fair.”Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Fair.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- “Fare.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Fare.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- “Fare.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 627.
- Garner, B. “Fair.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 376.
- “Homophones, Homographs, and Homonyms.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- Expert Panel. “Nine Tips For Identifying New Hotel Real Estate Opportunities.” Forbes, 29 Mar 2021.
- Guse, C. “Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang waters down pitch for full city control of NYC Transit.” NY Daily News, 24 Mar 2021.
- Illing, S. “Millennials are stuck in the world boomers built.” Vox, 31 Mar 2021.
- Lowenfels, J. “Popular Alaska garden crops like kale, cauliflower and broccoli should be started from seed now.” Anchorage Daily News, 24 Mar 2021.
- Sachar, A. “What exactly is Indian skin, and what are the best ways to take care of it?” Vogue, 30 Oct 2019.
- Searcey, D. “A Heartbreak for Children: When the County Fair Is Canceled.” The New York Times, 13 May 2020.
- Yeretsian, L. “Are Fair Trials Possible for George Floyd Police Defendants?” Bloomberg Law, 4 Mar 2021.