The Grammarphobia Blog

Fun, funner, and funnest

Q: Is it correct to use “fun” as an adjective? I hear sentences like this everywhere: “We had such a fun day!” Is the usage an example of English as an evolving language? Or is it just some cutesy-poo infantilism that is being adopted by trendy semi-literates? You can probably guess which side I’m on.

A: I wrote a blog entry last year about the adjectival use of “fun” and one earlier this year about the etymology of “funny.” But I suppose we can allow ourselves a “fun” update!

Whether “fun” is a bona fide adjective depends on the dictionary you consult.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) includes an adjectival definition of the word, without labeling it “nonstandard” or a usage problem or anything else questionable. In other words, M-W considers it standard English.

Merriam-Webster’s even includes the comparative “funner” and the superlative “funnest,” though both have the modest comment “sometimes” attached. That’s not exactly a wholehearted endorsement in lexicographerese.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), however, feels the adjective is not yet ready for prime time.

In a usage note, American Heritage says the “use of fun as an attributive adjective, as in a fun time, a fun place, probably originated in a playful reanalysis of the use of the word in sentences such as It is fun to ski, where fun has the syntactic function of adjectives such as amusing or enjoyable.“

“The usage became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, though there is some evidence to suggest that it has 19th-century antecedents, but it can still raise eyebrows among traditionalists,” AH adds. “The day may come when this usage is entirely unremarkable, but writers may want to avoid it in more formal contexts.”

I’m with American Heritage on this. When too many people still find a usage remarkable (to put it nicely), it doesn’t yet belong in formal English. But I think it’s acceptable to use “fun” as an adjective in speech or informal writing.

As for “funner” and “funnest,” we are not amused.

Buy our books at a local store,
Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.