Fair vs. Fare: How to Choose the Right Word

Only one refers to equality and justice

A view of the Maryland State Fair at night
Remsberg Inc / Design Pics / Getty Images

The words "fair" and "fare" are homophones, meaning they sound alike but have different meanings. One can be used as a noun or an adjective, and the other can be used as a noun or a verb.

How to Use "Fair"

The noun "fair" (as in "state fair") refers to an exhibition, exposition, or public event where there is often food and entertainment. The adjective "fair" has a range of meanings, including just, unbiased, pleasing, clear, and clean.

How to Use "Fare"

The noun "fare" refers to food and drink or to a transportation fee (as in "bus fare"). The verb "fare" means to go, get along, or succeed (as in "fare thee well").

Examples

As an adjective, "fair" is often used to describe someone or something that is impartial and just, such as a neutral authority like a judge:

  • The judge was harsh but fair; she handed down a sentence that was appropriate for the crime.
  • The rules of the game are fair—both teams have an equal chance of winning.

"Fair" describes someone or something that is pleasing and attractive as well:

  • The knight hoped to draw the attention of a fair maiden.

The adjective is also used to describe something of a moderate condition or a moderately large amount:

  • Though the house was old, it was still in fair shape.
  • By the time he retired, he had saved a fair amount of money.

As a noun, "fair" refers exclusively to gatherings, recreational or professional, where there are exhibitors or vendors:

  • They bought kettle corn at the county fair.

"Fare" is also a noun, though it refers either to the price of transportation or something offered for entertainment or consumption, especially food:

  • The city has raised the bus fare to $3 per ride.
  • They enjoyed fine Italian fare at the new restaurant.

As a verb, "fare" means to perform in a certain way (it often works as a synonym for "get on"):

  • Because of his knee injury, he did not fare well in the race.

How to Remember the Difference

There are a few tricks for keeping "fair" and "fare" straight. The first one is simple—if it's an adjective, it's "fair." The adjective "fair" has a range of meanings, and you may need to use context clues to figure them out, but it's always spelled "fair." If the word is used as a verb, however, it's always "fare."

Things get a little more complicated once we move beyond adjectives and verbs. Both "fair" and "fare" can be used as nouns. One way to remember the difference is with this sentence:

  • We enjoyed excellent fare at the fair.

The "fare" is the food itself; the "fair" is the gathering at which it is eaten.

Sources

  • Straus, Jane. "The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: The Mysteries of Grammar and Punctuation Revealed." John Wiley & Sons, 2006, p. xxxix.
  • Strumpf, Michael, and Auriel Douglas. "The Grammar Bible." Owl (Henry Holt and Co.), 2004, p. 185.