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Is “so fun” ready for prime time?

Q: I often hear people say things like “We went to the circus and it was so fun.” I think the correct usage would be “it was fun” or “it was so much fun.”  I find it strange to see a noun like “fun” used as another part of speech. Help please!

A: As we’ve often said, English usage changes over time and we do our best to stay on top of it. We’re glad you asked us this, since it gives us a chance to review what we last wrote about “so fun,” back in 2008.

Six years ago we noted that “fun” is traditionally considered a noun, as in “We had fun” or  “That was fun.” (In the second example, “fun” can be called a predicate noun—a noun that follows a linking verb and renames or describes the subject).

But the use of “fun” as an adjective has long been regarded as improper (“We had a fun day” … “It was so fun”).

We concluded that the use of “fun” as an adjective “isn’t acceptable, but it’s now so common that someday it just might be.”

Well, perhaps the day has arrived. Almost every dictionary that we’ve consulted now recognizes the adjectival use of “fun,” though not necessarily its use in the phrase “so fun.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), for example, labels “fun” as an “informal” but nevertheless “standard” adjective meaning “enjoyable; amusing.”

Here’s how the dictionary puts it in a usage note:

“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 has become widespread and must be considered standard, though writers may want to avoid it in more formal contexts.”

American Heritage isn’t alone by any means. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.) and Random House Webster’s College Dictionary also have entries for the adjective “fun”—and both call it “informal.”

By labeling a usage “informal,” dictionaries generally mean it’s widely found in everyday talk and casual writing, but not in formal writing or formal speech.

Two other respected and widely used sources, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) and the Cambridge Dictionaries online, go even further.

Both have entries for “fun” as an adjective without reservations of any kind—there’s no label of “informal” or anything else.

But what about “so fun”? Is it, too, regarded as a standard usage?

None of the aforementioned dictionaries indicate as much. In all their examples, “fun” is an attributive adjective (one that precedes the noun): “a real fun guy,” “a fun party,” “a fun person,” “a fun time,” “a fun gift,” and so on.

In the phrase “so fun,” however, the word “fun” is a predicate adjective—one that follows a linking verb (like “be”) and modifies a subject previously mentioned.

It could be that the lexicographers at those dictionaries regard the word’s use after the noun (rather than before) as going too far.

In fact, American Heritage specifically uses the phrase “attributive adjective” in its note about “fun.” And two other sources, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and the Macmillan Dictionary online, recognize the adjective—but say, “only before noun.”

For another perspective, we turned to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which raises this very interesting point:

“No commentator has attempted to tackle the question of whether fun is a predicate adjective as well [as an attributive adjective], and probably with good reason, for there is no sure way to prove that fun in ‘That was fun’ is either an adjective or a noun.”

Like you, and like many others, the two of us don’t use “so fun.” A sentence like “The party was so fun” doesn’t sound idiomatic to us. However, the use of “fun” as a predicate adjective isn’t as jarring to us in phrases like “rather fun” or “awfully fun.”

Well then, is “so fun” legit?

The usage is out there, but not as out there as you might think. Although a Google search for “so fun” can get more than 5 million hits, the number drops to a few hundred or a few thousand when you actually call up the results (depending on how you do your search).

We wouldn’t recommend using “so fun” until the editors at a few standard dictionaries clearly indicate that the use of “fun” as a predicate adjective is standard English.

One other problem has to be mentioned. Adjectives generally have comparative and superlative forms, so if “fun” is an adjective, should we also recognize “funner” and “funnest”?

That depends on the dictionary you consult. Most don’t comment on the extended forms, but two do.

This is from the American Heritage usage note: “The inflection of the adjective (as funner, funnest) is another matter, however. Although this practice goes back to the 1950s, the inflected forms are almost never used in edited prose aside from direct quotations, usually of children.”

And this is from the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate entry for “fun” as an adjective: “sometimes funner; sometimes funnest.”

It’s true that we “sometimes” hear people use “funner” and “funnest,” but we have to agree with American Heritage that the speakers are usually children—or adults quoting them.

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