in fairness / to be fair

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Senior Member
An American told me that the use of in fairness is awkward in conversations:

1. If you're watching a film that you don't expect to be funny, do you naturally say these interchangeably?

a) In fairness, it makes me laugh.
b) To be fair, it makes me laugh.

These two statements imply this: [I don't expect it to be funny, but]

2. You hear someone mock your neigbor who only finished third grade. Then, someone will say:

a) In fairness, her eldest son has a PhD and her two daughters have masters degree.
b) To be fair, her eldest son has a PhD and both her two daughters have masters degree.

I'm asking about in fairness because I have seen a lot of matches in an online US newspaper. Is that phrase restricted to written materials?
  • Toadie

    Senior Member
    It doesn't sound like a literary term to me, really, though I wouldn't often use it in lieu of "to be fair". However, in my opinion your grasp of the meaning of "to be fair" is a bit off.

    For your first example, I would say:
    "Surprisingly, it makes me laugh."

    For your second example, I would say:
    "Ironically, her eldest son has a PhD, and her two daughters have a master's degree."

    If you wanted situations where "to be fair" would work, consider these.

    1. You're watching a film that is completely pointless.
    Person A: "This movie sucks."
    Person B: "To be fair, it makes me laugh/it has some funny parts."

    2. Your roommate is telling you about how your mean neighbor was making fun of your other neighbor for only having finished 3rd grade.
    Roommate: "Bob is so mean! He made fun of Sue for only finishing third grade!"
    You: "To be fair, education nowadays is readily available. There's no reason she couldn't have continued her education."


    Senior Member
    If you want to use the phrase.... in fairness... the correct phrase is

    In ALL fairness

    She may get to work late all the time, but in all fairness, she is an excellant worker.


    Senior Member
    English English
    I'd say that in all fairness is perhaps a bit commoner than the all-less version in written and spoken BE, Ffrank:)
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