Flair vs. Flare: How to Choose the Right Word

These terms may sound the same, but their meanings differ widely

A young woman in a forest holding a distress flare
Steven Ritzer/EyeEm/Getty Images

The words "flair" and "flare" are homophones: They sound the same but have different meanings. The noun "flair" means a talent or distinctive quality or style. As a noun, "flare" means a fire or a blazing light. As a verb, "flare" means to burn with an unsteady flame or shine with a sudden light. Violence, troubles, tempers, and nostrils can "flare."

How to Use "Flair"

"Flair" means a talent for something.

You might say, "The student has a flair for drawing." This means that the student has a talent, or special gift, for drawing. "Flair" can also mean an eagerness for something or a distinctive style. If you say, "The student has a flair for photography," you would, of course, be describing the student as talented in photography, but you could also be explaining that she has a distinctive style when taking pictures. Another way to put it is, "She has a flair for photography. She has a good eye."

How to Use "Flare"

"Flare" as a noun can mean a fire or blaze of light that is often used as a signal. In this use, you might say, "The airport set flares to guide the plane as it landed." As an adjective, "flare" can mean to increase quickly and often unsteadily, as in, "the candle flared suddenly," meaning its flame flickered and increased, or "his temper flared," meaning he got angry suddenly.

"Flare" as a verb can also describe the shape of something that widens, often at the bottom, as in "the blue jeans flared at the bottom," meaning they got larger or wider at the bottom.

In a previous era, when such pants were in fashion, they were called "bell bottoms" or "flares." You could also say, the oak tree "flared" at the bottom," meaning that it got wider at the bottom.

Examples

Authors and writers have made good use of the terms "flair" and "flare" because the terms are very descriptive, as in:

  • He wore his outfit with great "flair."

In this case, the person didn't so much have a talent for wearing clothes; rather, he wore them with a distinctive style. Though, by implication, this also means that he did have a "flair"a talent or giftfor dressing well. Another example might read:

  • With her natural "flair" for the dramatic, Wendy single-handedly arranged the biggest media event that the company had ever staged.

You would be saying that Wendy has a tendency, or talent, for the dramatic.

You can also use the term "flare" to mean a signal flame:

  • The man, stranded in the desert, lit a "flare" to try to attract the attention of the search plane as it flew over his location.

"Flare" can also have a more figurative meaning, indicating a rekindling of passion such as:

  • Seeing her after all these years, caused his passion to "flare" as he gazed upon his lost love.

In this usage, romances don't literally "flare" up like a flame; rather, the passion between two people increases or ignites quickly.

How to Remember the Difference

Try looking at the word "flared" to help remember the difference between "flair" and "flare." The word "flared" includes the word "red." As noted, "flare" as a noun can mean a fire or blaze of light.

Something that has "flared" has produced a fire or flame. Fire is often orange but also contains red.

"Flare" is also often paired with the word "up." So, if you hear someone say that a person's temper has "flared up" or that a small blaze suddenly "flared up" into a major blaze, you would know to use the word "flared," which contains red and is followed by "up."

Idiom Alerts

"Flare," especially, has some distinct idiomatic uses:

Flare up: The expression to "flare up" means to occur suddenly or to express strong negative emotion. A "flare-up" is a sudden outburst:

  • Seeing the boy dent his new car caused George's temper to "flare up" instantly.
  • If Adam doesn't watch his diet, his gout may "flare up."

When speaking figuratively, you might also use the expression to let the reader or listener know that the person in question lost his temper quickly as in, "The boss's temper 'flared' in an instant" or "The boss's tempered 'flared up' when I told him I had botched the project."

Flare out: This expression also means to get wider, usually at the bottom:

  • Her skirt "flares out" around her knees as she dances.

Flare off: "Flare off," an expression often used in the oil and gas industry, essentially means to burn off into the atmosphere:

  • According to an article by David Wogan, published in September 2013 on the Scientific American Blog Network, energy producers in North Dakota "flared off" about $1 billion worth of natural gas in 2012.

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