I often find my students confuse ‘fair’ and ‘fare’, and incorrectly spell ‘welfare’ as ‘wellfair’.
When helping children differentiate between homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings), it is often useful to employ several strategies:
Research the etymology of the words, as an understanding the meaning and history of a word can assist in spelling.
‘Fair’ can be used as an adjective, a noun, or an adverb. ‘Fair’ as an adjective referring to a ‘pleasing sight’, ‘morally good’ or ‘clear, pleasant weather’, comes from the Old English word ‘fæger’. In the 1200s, ‘fair’ began to be used to refer to a ‘light complexion’ reflecting a colonial definition of beauty and in the 1300s it started to be used in reference to ‘justice, equity and free from bias’. The use of ‘fair’ in sport (fair ball, fair catch, etc.) appears in 1856. Interestingly, ‘fair play’ was not originally used in a sporting context but rather meant ‘pleasant amusement’ in contrast to ‘sinful amusement’. ‘Fair-weather friends’ was first used in 1736, ‘fair sex’ in reference to women is from the 1600s and ‘fair game’ meaning a legitimate target is a hunting term initially used in 1776.
‘Fair’ as a noun meaning a ‘market or a place of public entertainment’ is from the Anglo-French word ‘feyre’ which is derived from the Latin word ‘feriae’ meaning a ‘religious festival or holiday’.
‘Fair’ as an adverb meaning ‘without cheating’ also relates to the Old English word ‘fæger’.
In contrast, ‘fare’ used as a noun or a verb relating to a ‘journey, travel or get along’, is derived from the Old English word ‘faran’. The use of ‘fare’ in reference to the ‘payment for passage’ dates back to the 1510s. In the 1200s, the word ‘fare’ also began to be used to mean ‘food or sustenance’.
‘Welfare’ meaning ‘a concern for the well-being of others’ combines the Old English ‘faran’ meaning ‘to get along’ and the Old English adjective ‘wel’ meaning ‘abundantly or to be sure’.
An integral component of spelling is being able to firstly identify the sounds (phonemes) in a word and then to match these sounds with the letters or letter combinations (graphemes) representing those sounds. ‘Fair’ and ‘fare’ both have the same two sounds = /f/-/air/. To remember the correct grapheme, it is useful to make a link to a key cue word/picture.
The cue word/picture I use for ‘air’ is ‘chair’. So, I ask my students to make a link between the meaning of ‘fair’ and ‘chair’. Some examples might include:
- It’s not fair that you have a chair.
- I went on the swinging chair at the fair.
- The fair-haired girl sat on the chair.
- In fair weather I sit on a chair outside.
The cue word/picture I use for ‘are’ is ‘square’. So, I ask my students to make a link between ‘fare’ and ‘square’. For example:
- I received a square ticket when I paid the bus fare.
- ‘Square’ parents are concerned about their children’s welfare.
- Eating traditional Italian fare would provide you with a ‘square’ meal.