Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same way, but have different meanings. A very common example would be when people confuse there, their and they’re. It can be challenging when a word sounds exactly the same way and you don’t write it down all that often. Even so, you need to be careful that you select the right spelling or you run the risk of being misunderstood.

Another trio of words that you may encounter are fair, fare and faire. To make matters even more confusing, each of those individual words can have multiple meanings as well.

All’s Fair in Love and War

Let’s start with defining the word fair. When used as a noun, it could mean some sort of exhibition or event for public entertainment. This would be the case with the Fair at the PNE. Depending on the exact circumstances, it may be used interchangeably with words like festival or carnival. It could also take on a similar meaning as a market with vendors selling merchandise.

“Fair” could also be used to mean that you are participating within the confines of the accepted rules and standards. It means that you are not cheating. The idiom “all’s fair in love and war” would then mean that you can do just about anything in the context of love and in the context of war and this would all be considered “fair game.” In baseball, a ball that is hit within the field of play is a “fair ball,” as opposed to one that is hit outside of the established field of play (“foul ball”).

A far nicer way to say that someone has “pale” or very light-colored skin is to say that they have “fair” skin. The same can be said about having “fair” hair, which would usually mean that someone has light blonde hair. “Fair” can also be used as an adjective to describe an amount that is more than “a little bit” but less than “a lot.” Joe did a fair bit of heavy lifting yesterday, so that’s why his back hurts today.

How Did They Fare?

The definitions of fare aren’t quite as vast and varied as the definitions of “fair,” but they are still quite numerous.

First, you could talk about someone’s overall performance in an activity. Considering it was his first time playing baseball, I’d say little Jimmy fared pretty well. Alternatively, “fare” used as a noun to describe a selection of food. Anthony Bourdain highly recommends that you eat the local fare whenever you travel to exotic locales. Stereotypical Italian fare would include pasta and pizza.

You might also talk about the “fare” that you pay to ride the city bus, the local train or some other form of public transportation. Used in this way, the “fare” is synonymous with the ticket price. The bus fare in Anytown, USA is $2 for adults and $1.25 for children. That being said, you typically wouldn’t use “fare” to describe the admission price or ticket price for attractions and events. It would sound odd to say that the fare to get into the zoo is $20. It’s more about transportation.

Welcome to Ye Olde Faire

The good news is, outside of its extensive use in French, faire really has only one main definition in English. It is effectively an archaic spelling of the word “fair” and is only used in the context of a festival. More specifically, you’ll typically only find it used in the context of a Renaissance Faire. These festivals typically celebrate the Renaissance period, which lasted roughly from the 14th to 17th century. You’ll get jousting knights on horses, harp players, traditional blacksmiths and so on.

Bringing it all together, you might comment on the fair prices on all the delicious fare at the Renaissance Faire. Or you might ask a friend how did he fare at the fair’s carnival games.

Is there a grammar topic that you’d like to see explored in a future blog post? Let me know by posting a comment.