I was in a situation where I wanted to let the other person know that whatever they said was not fair to me or to the point we were discussing so I used "This is not very fair" and then realised may be I was wrong in terms of sentence usage. Please suggest which one should be used.

  • You are correct.That's not fair , or not very fair.
    – Mia
    Apr 14, 2016 at 18:24

2 Answers 2


Both of your variants

not very fair
very not fair

are understandable to mean someone is not being reasonable.
However, from my experience (this is a disclaimer), a difference might be that

not fair
not very fair
completely unfair

implies levels or degrees or unfairness, which gets used by AmE speakers, whereas when a BrE speaker says

That is not fair!

the understanding is that culturally it's binary, since something either is fair or it is not fair.
It can be followed by

That is not fair!
That is just not on!

So, to me, very not fair, sounds possibly BrE. "Very" also emphasises the "not fairness" aspect.

  • I don't have a clue about BrE or AME speakers. Could you just post some info?
    – Singh
    Apr 15, 2016 at 4:11
  • Any source on the cultural difference there? I've never heard about that before.
    – Era
    Apr 15, 2016 at 19:10
  • In the US, "fairness" is used more "mechanically" (if I may say that) in the distribution and application of law. "Equality" is used more in the US, "The Equal Rights Amendment", "All [men] are created equal...", "people get their fair share", "the rules of the game are fair" as examples. In the UK, they have "The Great British Fairness Debate" and "Fairness Commissions" in local authorities. In the US, I have heard it said "That's kind of fair." or maybe "That's kind of the same." but not "That's kind of equal." (cont)
    – Peter
    Apr 15, 2016 at 19:51
  • In the UK "fair", "equal", and "same" are also not equivalent. Possibly UK "fair" is more similar to US "justice". In the US "justice" is binary, as is "fair" in the UK, at least that's what I've found.
    – Peter
    Apr 15, 2016 at 19:54

The phrase you used was the correct one.

Further explanation -- 'not very fair' and 'very not fair' are both understandable to native speakers. The first is grammatically correct and isn't as strong an objection. The second isn't grammatically correct, but sometimes used to emphasize how much you disagree with it. The grammatically correct phrasing for 'not fair' is generally 'unfair'.

Parent: "You have been playing with the new toy for over an hour. It's time for your twin to play with it for an hour. I think that's fair."
Child: "That's very NOT fair!"

  • ... you are right, but maybe write out a complete example sentence?
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 14, 2016 at 19:31

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