There is a song that I really like and it says "Fare thee well my honey, fare thee well". Could it be something like "good luck my honey"? I did a little research and found that "fare thee well" means "do something perfectly" but it just doesn't make any sense to me.

  • Merriam Webster states of 'illfare' (the antonym of 'welfare') the condition of faring badly or of not being well off. So to 'fare well' is to be in a good condition. But I believe that 'fare thee well' indicates some effort is required. It is not automatic, I feel. I think the modern equivalent might well be 'take care'.
    – Nigel J
    May 28, 2018 at 23:48
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    Possible duplicate of How did “fare-thee-well” come to mean “perfectly well”?
    – lbf
    May 28, 2018 at 23:58
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    "Fare thee well" also used to mean farewell, goodbye. Are you sure that's not what what it means in the song? May 29, 2018 at 0:00
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    Especially when one verse (in one version of the song) goes One o’ these mornings, And it won’t be long, You’re gonna call my name And I’ll be gone, Fare thee well, my Honey, Oh, fare thee well. May 29, 2018 at 0:03
  • Joan Baez - youtube.com/watch?v=QhAkNrelNbU
    – Greg Lee
    May 29, 2018 at 1:13

8 Answers 8


"Fare thee well" is an expression of good luck used at a parting. So the meaning is similar to "good luck". It contains the archaic second-person pronoun "thee". It's not a common expression: it's a little more common to say "farewell", although that still sounds very formal.

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for the verb "fare" categorizes the grammar of this construction as an impersonal verb followed by a dative pronoun. A "dative" pronoun is one with the sense of "to X", so "Fare thee well" apparently would be more or less equivalent to "May it fare well to thee". That is explained as the meaning of the expression in Complete manual of parsing, by W. Davidson and J.C. Alcock (1875, p. 159).

The archaic verb "fare" has a somewhat similar meaning to the verb "go" so it could be seen as an old-fashioned way of saying "I hope things go well for you."


There should be no a real problem with this phrase.

Fare meant in earlier times "to make one's way", "to journey".

Thee is the second person object pronoun (now usually "you").

Well might be thought of as adverbially "good".

Fare thee well means to "live well", "have a good life". Some still used the phrase when I was young. It was used as a valediction when people parted for an extended period. It has been misunderstood because of the idiomatic phrase "to a fare thee well", which came to mean "done perfectly". I think it is clear that meaning came from the idea something was done to a point there was nothing left but to say "goodbye". (Sam beat Fred "to a fare thee well", (perfectly beat him), meaning there was nothing left to do but say goodbye.)


By itself, "fare thee well" a simple phrase of parting, a variant of "farewell" or "farewell [to] thee", and that's what it means in the song lyric. As a phrase "to a fare-thee-well" it means "to an extreme degree".

  • I believe that this is misleading. I believe that “farewell” is a shortened version of “fare thee well”, just as “goodbye” is reportedly an abbreviation of “God be with you” (or maybe “God be with ye”). Apr 8, 2019 at 15:56
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    @Scott It’s not really. Fare ye/thou well means ‘travel well, journey safely’ and may be ‘shortened’ (if we can really call it that) to ‘farewell’. Fare thee well, on the other hand, means ‘may it fare well for you’, i.e., may things work out well for you. Their messages are similar, but the actual meanings and the constructions are quite distinct. Aug 3, 2019 at 20:45

In Dutch there is a similar expression which is 'vaarwel' or 'vaar wel'.

The wording and meaning are so similar that they probably have the same origin. Therefore it may help to compare them.

In Dutch it is a saying of goodby - forever. It means that we will not meet again and I wish you a good journey/life.

'wel' means 'well' as in lucky or in a good way. The literal meaning of 'vaar' (sounds like 'fare') is 'sail' (as in travel by ship). A secondary meaning is the way your life or business is going. In this saying it means 'I wish you luck for the rest of your life'.

  • Vaarwel is the Dutch equivalent of farewell, which is not quite the same as fare thee well (‘vare [het] jou wel’). Specifically, farewell and fare thee well are historically two different constructions using two different meanings of the verb fare (imperative ‘get on, manage’ vs. subjunctive ‘happen, turn out’). Also, Dutch varen meaning specifically ‘sail’ is a narrowing of the meaning that occurred within Dutch itself. The original base meaning, and still the current one in English, German, and the North Germanic languages, is simply ‘go, travel, move’. May 29, 2018 at 14:30

How you ‘fare’ means ‘how well things show up for you’ or ‘how well you go on’ or ‘get on’ (in life).

For example:

  • John fared well in the first cricket innings, gaining 42 runs.
  • Sandra fared well in the raffle, winning a basket of fruit.
  • ‘How did you fare in Italy?’ ‘Very well thanks - I had a great time, found cheap places to stay...’

So how you ‘fare’ is ‘how things go for you’.

  • Fare = how things go for you
  • Thee = ‘you’
  • Well = in a positive manner

Fare thee well means ‘may things go well for you’!

‘Fare thee well’ appears in a lot of songs - often about sending people on a journey safely and happily, saying ‘goodbye and safe journey’ - although it is really about ‘the journey of life’ not exclusively, travelling.

Link: see ‘to progress, or be in a certain condition’.



fare - isn't an archaic verb really, you may well ask a man about his son for instance having taken an exam, 'do you know how he fared?' For that matter thee and thou is still common parlance in various locations in England, and I suspect Wales and Scotland too ..... just because the middle-classes (and the lecturing classes) have forgotten how to express their friendship for someone by using it, doesn't mean it is 'archaic', it means, we keep it secret from them. Heard regularly in Barnsley, Sheffield and other parts of Yorkshire and, in my view making a come back too.

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    Are you able to get to the part where you address the meaning of fare thee well? You are one third of the way there. Jul 23, 2020 at 22:04

This line is very common in British folk songs. The traditional music resource Mainly Norfolk has several versions of "The Turtle Dove" containing it on this page alone. Not all the versions contain 'fare thee well' but most of them do.

Bob Dylan wrote a song called Farewell (possibly influenced by The Turtle Dove) which contains it; and Robert Burns used it in A Red Red Rose. In all cases it means "goodbye" but carries connotations of goodwill and affection: it would be unlikely that anyone would use it when parting on bad terms.

According to The Online Etymological Dictionary "to a fare thee well" meaning to perfection only dates from the late 19th century and only in the US. As a British person I'd never heard it used that way at all.


As a child,I've heard "A Fair Thee Well" used as a Noun: A derogatory term, Meaning a Person who thought more of himself than was proper or live in a manner that was above his means to impress others

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    Hello, 364. Please link and attribute quotes. This secondary usage is obviously different in meaning from the usage OP cites. This might be better as a 'comment' (but 50rep needed). Oct 10, 2019 at 16:00

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