April 16, 2015

Weekly Language Usage Tips: fun, funner, and funnest

Posted in fun/funner/funnest at 6:30 am by dlseltzer

A reader writes:

Would you care to comment on the use of “fun” as an adjective? “I had a very fun time” sounds strange to me, although “reading is fun” sounds correct. Really love your weblog.

I think that the way we feel about fun as an adjective has a lot to do with how old we are. Those of us of a certain age learned that ‘fun’ was a noun and only a noun, and saying that “we had a fun time” sounds awkward and incorrect. On the other hand, younger folks are perfectly comfortable using ‘fun’ as an adjective. Do I sound like an old coot? Don’t tell anyone, but I am.

Most dictionaries concur that ‘fun’ is perfectly acceptable as an adjective, but add the caveat that it is an informal or casual usage. I’m perfectly comfortable with that. After all, I hate to say it, but how often does ‘fun’ come up in our formal, scholarly writing. That’s not to say that my job is not fun—it is. In fact, it’s the funnest job I’ve ever had. Oops! Don’t panic, I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s just that our scholarly writing rarely, if ever, involves fun. Maybe an observational study of kids playing, but that’s about it. (I know, I know, there are probably a zillion exceptions—please don’t feel you have to share them all with me.)

The problem is that there isn’t an adjective form of ‘fun.’ There’s ‘funny,’ but over time, it’s acquired a definition of risible. You wouldn’t say:

What a funny time we had going to the arts festival.

We would, however, say:

Robin Williams was a fine actor and a really funny comedian.

I would guess that Bryan Garner would classify it as ‘ubiquitous, but not fully accepted’—stage four of his Language-Change Index. Rats, I just checked, and I was wrong! He has it in stage three—‘widespread, but avoided in careful usage.’ He saved stage four for ‘almost universally used, except by linguistic stalwarts or die-hard snoots.’ ‘Snoots’ is a term coined by David Foster Wallace which refers to the Grammar Police. Okay, so I may be a little ahead of the game. But wait, Garner’s book, Garner’s Modern American Usage was published in 2009. Certainly by now, it would rate a stage four.

But what of the comparative and superlative forms of ‘fun’? Can we use ‘funner’ and ‘funnest’? They sound funny to me, but we’ve already established that I’m an old coot—but not a snoot—well, maybe a little bit of a snoot. But besides the fact that I’m not drawn to them, it seems to me that if we accept ‘fun’ as an adjective, there’s no reason not to accept all forms, including ‘funner’ and ‘funnest.’ Please note, that I am writing this in Word, and Word’s dictionary apparently sees nothing amiss with ‘funner’ and ‘funnest.’ Garner rates these forms at stage two—‘widely used but not acceptable is standard English.’

Well, all I can say is this. I am having a very fun time on this beautiful Spring day, and I hope that all of you will have the funnest weekend ever.

2 Comments »

  1. Joanne said,

    Hi Deb, I hear this often in my daily life among francophones here in Quebec. I too find it doesn’t sound quite right, and I would never let it pass in written English. Also have to say that I gag on funner and funnest. Guess I’m an old fogey!

  2. Ben said,

    I like “funnest” because of the potential for paronomasia with the quite opposite “funest”. Also, I can hardly imagine a context in which I would be relating comparative or superlative funness that would be too formal for the use of “funner” and “funnest”. Speaking of, how do we feel about “funness”? Preferably hyphenated?


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