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Archive Language Point 97

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Fairness vocabulary

Tim and Helen in the sitting room


There are many English expressions, idioms and proverbs which refer to fairness. Here are some of the common ones related to treating people equally and reasonably, giving people what they deserve and of playing games honestly and according to the rules.

Treating people correctly or reasonably

to be fair
to treat everyone in the same way. This is usually said when you think you aren't getting the same treatment as everyone else.

Be fair mum! You can't give Katie that huge chocolate cake and nothing to me!

fair enough
what someone did or said was fair and reasonable (although you might not agree with it)

"I'm so angry with her because she turned up two hours late!" "Fair enough."

to have a fair crack of the whip
to have an equal chance to do something

There are four different prizes in this competition so we should all have a fair crack of the whip.

Giving people what they expect or deserve

It's a fair cop
an expression to show that you were caught doing something wrong, and you agree that what you did was wrong. You don't have an excuse for what you did.

It's a fair cop. The boss saw you at the football match when you said you were sick. No wonder she was so angry with you!

Fair's fair
an expression to show you want someone to behave reasonably or treat everyone in the same way

Come on. I've done all the shopping. It's your turn to make the dinner. Fair's fair!

Doing things according to the rules

by fair means or foul
an expression to show you will use any method (good or bad) to get what you want

I want a signed copy of that book and I don't care what I have to do to get it. I swear, by fair means or foul, I'll get my hands on it.

to win fair and square/to beat someone fair and square
to win a game or match in an honest way

The West Indies were much better on the day. They beat the English fair and square.

to play fair
to act in an honest and open way

She wasn't exactly playing fair when she said she was quite a good dancer. She won the championship last year but she didn't mention that!


having (often formal) discussions or talks with someone to reach an agreement with them


treating people in the same way

grow up!
act like an adult and act responsibly (used when you think someone is behaving in an immature or childish way)


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