Easily Confused Words: Flare vs. Flair

Flare and flair are easily confused words. They are also homophones, meaning they are pronounced identically, but they are spelled differently and have different meanings.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Flare (pronounced “fl-air”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a noun, it can mean a sudden burst of light or fire.
  • As a noun, it can mean a fire stick. If a person were stranded on an island or in a remote area, a common “attention tactic” is to light a flare and throw it in the air. There are also roadside flares that act as a propped up “torch” to alert drivers that there’s a problem up ahead; they are positioned many feet away from the disabled car.
  • As a verb, it means something heating up or intensifying, like someone’s temper.
  • As a verb, it means something growing in volume or spreading out. For example, some women’s dresses are described as fit and flare, which means a dress with close-fitting bodice (torso) that spreads out from the hips down.

Flair (pronounced “fl-air”) is a noun.

  • It means having a skill, or demonstrating style or talent in a task. It’s another way of saying “knack.”
  • It can also mean fashion items showing attitude, hipness, or style. Joanna in the cult film Office Space got in trouble for not having enough.

The following story uses both words correctly:

 Unfortunately, Flavia was the jealous type. Her nostrils would flare anytime someone admired her friends’ flair for fashion and putting together ensembles instead of hers. 

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