What is the difference between the homophones, hair and hare? Is hair or hairs correct? This article will start with basic definitions and example sentences, but then get into expressions and idioms that even English majors mix up!
Hair Definition and Meaning
“Hair” is defined as one or more of the thread-like strands that grows out of the head of humans (or very lightly on the rest our bodies), on the skin of animals, and even on plants and objects! The word “hair” is a noun.
Hair or Hairs?
Deciding whether “hair” or “hairs” is correct is surprisingly complicated, because it doesn’t always follow the rules of English plurals. Here’s how it works: When you’re referring to ALL the hair on someone’s head, or on an animal’s body, you should say “hair” not “hairs.” When you’re describing a few individual pieces of hair (like two, three, or ten of them), say “hairs.”
Example Sentences with Hair and Hairs
“She dyed her hair bright green to annoy her parents, but they actually loved it! Unfortunately, the dye was toxic, and then next day she started to lose all the hair around her ears. Ew!”
- (Note how that sentence uses the word “hair” to refer to all of the 100,000 hairs on an individual human’s head.)
“Aww, that sheep is so cute, but it has one super long hair sticking out of its chin that looks weird. Do you think we should trim it?”
- (Note how that sentence uses the word “hair” to refer to one single strand.)
“Comb your hair so it looks nice, and make sure there aren’t awkward hairs sticking up!”
- (Note how “hair” is used to refer to ALL the hair on someone’s head, but “hairs” is used when describing just A FEW specific pieces of hair.)
Hare Definition and Meaning
The word “hare” is a noun referring to a fluffy animal with long ears that looks like a bunny rabbit, but is larger, and has several other differences that distinguish it from a rabbit. The plural of “hare” is “hares.”
Example Sentences with Hare
“The story ‘The Tortoise and the Hare‘ is a famous one with the moral: slow and steady wins the race. But did you know there is another version of it with a different moral?”
“The hair on that hare is so soft and downy! I just want to cuddle that sweet animal all day.”
Idioms and Expressions with Hair and Hair
The homophones “hair” and “hare” get particularly complicated when used in commonly confused English expressions and idioms. Let’s explore the most useful ones, along with which of the homophones is correct to use in each. Keep in mind that each of these expressions is figurative, not literal language, and be prepared for some silly jokes.
Expressions and Idioms with “HAIR”
- “Hair-raising” or means scary, creepy, or shocking. It would be incorrect to write “hare raising” unless you’re a farmer who is breeding hares and helping them grow up!
- Similarly, “have your hair stand on end” means to be extremely scared or nervous.
- “Get out of my hair” means “stop bothering me and being in my way.”
- “To split hairs” means to be foolishly focusing on or arguing about very tiny details that don’t matter. (Definitely don’t spell it “split hares” unless you’re a butcher. Gross!)
- “Pull (or tear) your hair out” means to be extremely annoyed or frustrated.
- “A hair’s breadth” or “by a hair” means EXTREMELY close, as in winning a race by a hair.
- “A bad hair day” is a day when your hair just doesn’t look right, and you’re annoyed and embarrassed about it. (Don’t say “bad hare day” unless there’s a hare being really rude — which is unlikely, since those animals are sweet and shy!)
- “Make your hair curl” means to horrify or shock. Again, remember that all these expressions are figurative — the person’s hair is not literally curling when this idiom is uttered.
- “Hair of the dog” is the idea that imbibing the morning after a night of imbibing might make someone feel better — but it doesn’t.
- “Let your hair down” means to relax, have fun freely, and be your true, full self! (Don’t spell it “let your hare down” unless you promised your pet hare a treat but didn’t give it to her, and she was disappointed.)
Expressions and Idioms with “HARE”
There are far fewer English expressions with “hare” versus “hair,” but here are a few.
- “Hare-brained” means foolish, and a “hare-brained idea” is a stupid idea. (Do not say “hair-brained” unless you’re obsessed with hairstyles and that’s the only thing you think about.)
- “Fast as a hare” is a simile that means extremely speedy.
- “Mad as a March hare” means crazy.
- Hare Krishna is something totally different — it’s pronounced more like “Harry” and is used either as a Hindu mantra, or refers to a specific religious group.
What about Heir vs. Hair and Hare?
Time to throw another complication into the mix: The word “heir” is a noun referring to the person who will inherit something (money, a title, etc.), often from a parent or other family member. For example, “The prince is heir to the throne after the king passes on.” But wait — “heir” is pronounced DIFFERENTLY than “hair” or “hare” because the “h” in “heir” is silent, and it’s actually a homophone for “air!”
Hair vs. Hare in Sum
I hope this lesson on the homophones hair vs. hair (not to mention hairs, heir, and idioms) has been helpful! Do feel free to check out my other English Lessons, including “Apart vs. A Part,” “Whose vs. Who’s,” “Former vs. Latter,” and many more!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English who has been a public school educator since 2003, and an experienced Reiki practitioner since 2018. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!