“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.

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

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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