“Fun, Funner, Funnest”?

By Maeve Maddox

Several readers have asked for a post about the use of fun as an adjective.

Many English speakers cringe at usage like this:

One of my funnest rides I’ve owned was a chevy S-10
Knitting is funner than cleaning
So we had this really fun week…
What’s the most funnest online game?

The fourth example is doubly unacceptable since it uses most with the –est ending, but the other examples reflect a usage that is in the process of becoming standard.

The word fun probably originated as a dialect pronunciation of Middle English fon, which as an adjective meant “foolish” and as a noun meant “fool.” The Middle English verb fonnen meant “to be foolish, to be infatuated.”

By the 1680s, fun could be used as a verb meaning “to cheat, to hoax.” Dr. Johnson didn’t like fun; he called it “a low cant [slang] word.” This verbal use of fun is still heard in American dialect: She said she’d thrown out my lucky shirt, but I knew she was just funning me.

The earliest example in the OED of the adjective funny, “mirth-producing,” is dated 1756.

Contemporary use of fun as an adjective is on the cusp between nonstandard and standard English. It will eventually prevail as an adjective in all its uses, but for the moment, educated opinion is against it, at least in its comparative forms.

Because I’m already accustomed to the noun fun used attributively in an expression like “fun fair,” I don’t have any trouble accepting a sentence like “He’s a fun guy.”

The word “funner,” on the other hand, strikes my ear as babyish. To the under-30, it probably sounds as inoffensive as “clearer” or “higher.”

Bottom line: For the next 25 years or so, careful speakers and writers will avoid comparing “fun” as if it were an adjective.

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36 Responses to ““Fun, Funner, Funnest”?”

  • Emma

    I was never aware that the use of “fun” as an adjective wasn’t nonstandard English, since I hear it used that way almost as much as I hear it used as a noun.

    I do have to agree with you that “funner” and “funnest” sound babyish, and I am well under thirty. I do, however, acknowledge that I am much more of a grammar purist than most of my peers, so I can’t speak for the rest of them.

  • Michael Batey

    Once ‘fun’ is established as an adjective, the comparative and superlative cannot be far behind. Apple has already described the iPod Touch as the “funnest iPod ever”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2Q7hiHV3O0.

  • Mike Feeney

    Apple launched their iPod Touch product with the campaign slogan “The Funnest iPod Ever.” The use of “funnest” bothered me, until I tried to come up with something better myself (while keeping it short and punchy) and couldn’t. It’s an obvious misuse of grammar, but surely intentional. Any thoughts on this use in a national marketing campaign?

  • Cecily

    Funny is now used as a noun in some circles. “Look at Bill, he did a funny.”

  • Tony Hearn

    I have no doubt, Maeve, that you’re right and that my finding ‘fun’ in all its forms used as an adjective toe-curlingly cringeworthy will avail nothing to halt the usage’s advance.

    I’m interested that you find ‘fun guy’ as acceptable as ‘fun fair’. Not to my British ears, at any rate! ‘Funfair’ is surely a ‘fair of fun’, where ‘fun’ is an attributive noun (and note that it is written these days a single word), but a ‘fun guy’ seems to mean a person who is fun to be with’ (and incidentally alerts my antennae to its being transatlantic as much for the use of ‘guy’!). Perhaps that’s where it all starts. In a ‘fun guy’ is ‘fun’ functioning as an adjective or as an attributive noun? I.e. does it mean ‘whose presence and company are fun (noun), or who is ‘fun’ (adjective)? Certainly on the British side of the water ‘fun’ as an adjective is still at best very colloquial, and ‘funner and ‘funnest’ are generally seen as evidence of ignorance!

    Your account of the origins of ‘fun’ are also interesting. There is an archaic use of ‘fond’ meaning foolish (from the same root as ‘fun’) which is still current, however, in Northern English dialects (‘Don’t be so fond’). You will find it in Shakespeare too.

  • Mary Hodges

    I’ve come across “fun” used as an adjective usually in advertising, something is described as a “fun” activity or product. But I’ve never seen or headr the comparative and superlative. Surely the correct usage would be “more fun” and “most fun”. Eg “Knitting is more fun than cleaning.” “Which online game is the most fun?”

  • Tony Hearn

    Ah, Mary, there’s the germ of another discussion: when it is idiomatic to use -er/-est and when not…? Practice has changed over time. ‘Beautifuller’ was Shakespeare’s natural choice. Currently it is becoming commoner in the US, I sense, to use more/most with all adjectives. In the UK the ‘rule’ is to use more/most with words of three or more syllables and -er/-est with single and double syllables. Hence: nicer, shortest, commonest, simpler, etc. But there are exceptions; words in -ful, for instance. we would say more useful, not usefuller. And, perhaps under US influence, there is also a growing frequence, if not tolerance, of more/most with monosyllabic words too.

  • Jessica Ojeda

    Do I understand correctly that “fun” as a adjective is non-standard English?

    For example: “This is a fun game.” It sounds perfect to me. πŸ™‚ And I say on with “funner” and “funniest.” Although, “funner” does seem like it would be spoken out of ignorance but it keeps the trend of the other adjectives and I like that. Rule breakers suck!

    Btw, I’m 25 and from the United States.

  • Rod

    It’s funny that when it comes to comparatives you use more fun and
    funnier since funny is a longer adjective.
    I had more fun , fun on this sentence is a noun but if I say It was a fun party, then fun is an adjective ,funner sounds weird

  • Tony Hearn

    Yes, Rod, it does – because it *isn’t* a proper adjective!

  • Lauren

    What’s wrong with clearer or higher?! I would really like to know as I didn’t even have the inkling that there was something wrong with using them.

  • Emma

    Lauren, she’s not saying that “clearer” and higher” are wrong words. She’s using them as common, standard-English examples to illustrate that some people accept “funner” to be of the same status. (I can see how it might be confusing, though.)

  • Maeve

    Lauren,
    There’s nothing wrong with clearer or higher. They are standard comparative forms. I was trying to make the point that the incorrect form “funner” may sound correct to some people.

  • Kiko

    I’m quite a bit under 30, and it definitely doesn’t sound right to me – funner and funnest aren’t proper words as far as I’m concerned. Just my opinion, but I don’t really see any modifications to “fun” as being acceptable in English, spoken or otherwise.

  • Maeve

    @Rod
    “It’s funny that when it comes to comparatives you use more fun and funnier since funny is a longer adjective.”

    Last I heard, “funny” is still an adjective.

  • Lauren

    Oh, haha. I completely understand now. Phew. And I’m relieved. Thanks for responding. Your articles are incredibly helpful. πŸ˜€

  • Grace

    The use that makes me cringe is ‘That was so fun!’ instead of ‘That was so much fun!’ I hear that all the time, and can’t quite define why it sounds so very wrong.

  • Tony Hearn

    Simply, Grace, because you expect to hear an adjective and instead hear a noun. Followed by ‘Aaargh’ in your brain.

  • Maeve

    @ Lauren
    I’m glad you find the site useful.

    @Lauren, Emma
    I work hard at trying to make my explanations and illustrations simple and clear, but I don’t always succeed.

  • Steve Day

    I’ve been pondering this question for a couple of years now. For me (age 49, UK based) “fun” is definitely and only a noun. For my teenage sons, though, it is unquestionably an adjective and their usage grates on my ear, but this kind of language change is nothing new: a character in one of Anthony Trollope’s novels complains about his son’s use of “awfully” to mean “very” !

  • Mike

    I find purism in the English language to be silly, a bit absurd, and futile. Considering that the English language came from a mix of Latin, Old Norse and Anglo-Norman French, its very origin, its rules and practices come from a twisting changing and combining of other languages. Its roots and heritage are a bastardization of several other languages, not just one. Add to thing that it continued to to evolve and change throughout its entire history.

    So “English Language Purist” is nothing more than a misguided oxymoron to me. It’s the equivalent of a “Purist DJ” … ?? ? WHAT!? By its very nature, its whole existence is impure.

    Add to this that one of the beauties of the English language is how you CAN twist it to form new greater meaning, without necessarily created a new root word but by juxtaposition and changing its form and how each word interacts with others.

    THIS IS WHAT SHAKESPEARE DID

    Granted, not everyone is Shakespeare, however, it he followed the rigid mindset of a purist we would not be speaking about him at all.

    Also, I find it fascinating that the majority of people whom I have questioned, accept “fun” as its original use as a noun AND as an adjective. Yet the same people who admit they accept, and have used “fun” as an adjective, will vehemently reject it in its comparative form of “funner”. I’m sorry… actually no I’m not… but acceptance of “fun” as an adjective but not accepting the one-syllable rules of its comparative forms is inconsistent, idiotic, illogical, and itself an offense to the sacred “proper accepted rules of grammar”. I have more respect for those that outright reject and will not use fun as an adjective at all. At least they are consistent and follow their own logic logic and rules.

    The majority of the rejection of the use of “funner” has been defended by “It just isnt” and “It just sounds stupid” or the supposedly more intellectual “Well its been this way in the English language forever (or whatever timeframe they throw out in the moment)”. Really? This is your answer? You are right, the English language has always been pure and unchanging.

    Stop taking the fun out of the language. ITS WAY FUNNER TO BE LESS RIGID

  • Laura

    I’d just like to add my voice to the others who are under 30 and do in fact cringe at the use of funner. Some of us do still care about language and grammar!

  • Franklin

    I don’t understand is why the divide over whether to use more/most instead of -er/-est even exists with the word fun. It seems to me the only issue is whether “fun” is acceptable as an adjective or only as a noun. If only acceptable as a noun, then how could there be any room for a preference for the use of “more” or “most”? I don’t think we could say, “that building is more house than this one,” or, “your pet is the most dog.” On the other hand, if it is acceptable to use “fun” as an adjective, then what precedent is there for rejecting the use of the -er/-est suffixes in favor of more/most with a single-syllable adjective?

  • Grace

    No, Franklin, but you can say ‘there are more houses in that street’, and ‘most dogs in that pound’. Fun doesn’t have a plural, so ‘more’ and ‘most’ are quantitative. It’s like wine. There is more wine in that glass, and most wine still in the bottle. We could be having more fun. The people who are having the most fun went to the other party. Substitute wine for fun. It’s still not an adjective.

  • Anna

    Is funnest a word?

  • Franklin

    Grace, thank you for the examples to help me understand how “more” and “most” are still applicable for a noun with no plural. That should have been obvious to me, but it somehow escaped me at the time.

    Since I didn’t weigh in with an opinion in my last post, I will this time. I think refusing to accept the relatively recent adoption of the word “fun” as an adjective in addition to a noun is just too conservative for my taste. I welcome the changes made to a language over time and find a language’s evolution fascinating.

    English as an informal, spoken language was how the language was born. And in that capacity it shall forever have a longer lifespan than any rules and limits applied to it. πŸ™‚

  • Amy

    I think it’s funny that people think the word funner sounds ” babyish”. Lol What? You can’t think of a better word to use than babyish. That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Grace

    Infantile.

  • tsis

    I pray for the next generation, and mine since I’m only 19 and words like ‘funner’ is being used and accepted by idiots.

  • Josh

    How does “funner” sound any more infantile than words like “hotter” or “brighter”? It’s simply an -er at the end of the word.

    Yes, I’m aware that’s what the whole argument here is about, and no, I’m not here to debate whether it is or isn’t correct.

    All I’m saying is strictly from the standpoint of the way it actually sounds coming out of someone’s mouth, there’s not a large difference.

  • Travis

    Do you not get off an amusement park ride and say “Well, that was fun?” You can have a fun time, watch a fun movie or play a fun videogame, if you ask me.

  • Scott

    It’s a shame all of you glazed right over Mike’s argument–he’s spot on. If one uses “fun” as an adjective, then “funner” and “funnest” become entirely logical and acceptable. There is no argument against their use: “they sound wrong” and “they’re not right” only demonstrates stubbornness.

  • Jacoby

    Mike is spot on when it comes to English being a mess of many different languages. Because of that, rules only apply for the majority of the time and nearly never followed in every case. Because of this, the second part of Mike’s post becomes contradictory. He talks about English being relaxed and then turns and talks about the rules as being sacred. Take a hike!

    Also, much of the population has now grown up thinking of funner as incorrect, and I am one. To us, funner does sound a touch foreign. To all those who say funner, we (meaning those who don’t) will judge you as being uneducated. It might be smart, but if you don’t want people to label you as being callow, don’t speak like it.

  • Richard

    If “fun” were an ungradable adjective then we would be able to use modifiers of high degree like “totally” or “completely” as we can with other ungradable adjectives like “unbelievable” but “totally fun” don’t sound right together. It’s definitely not gradable because “very fun” is also not possible so it can’t be an adjective at all. Therefore it must be an attributive noun.

  • Dane

    It is a contradiction to accept fun as an adjective but not allow comparative levels of fun, i.e. funner, funnest. Why would you accept that it was okay for me to say that, “My fun friends all like to sing”, but wrong for me to say, “My funnest friends like to dance”? The direct alternative would be to say “My most fun friends like to dance”, but that would be awkward to the point of being nonsensical. In this case, the grammatically correct option is linguistically incorrect.

  • Patricia

    I love this article and the use of “fun” makes a lot more sense now. I am not a native speaker so I couldn’t help but wonder. If it’s not 100% correct to say: Mary is more fun (funner) than Joana. What could I say instead? What other adjective describes the same thing FUN does? I would love to know. Thank you so much in advance. πŸ™‚

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