My goal to learn something new every day
If you’ve been teaching English for a little while, you may have heard your students try to say ‘funner’ or ‘funnest’, especially in those lessons on comparatives and superlatives. What did you do in those situations? For me, it’s always been one of those words that I’ve corrected. When questioned about it by the students, I usually resort to the English teacher’s favourite: It’s just because English is that way. Not a satisfying answer by any means for students. Why is it ‘faster’, ‘quicker’, ‘bigger’, ‘brighter’ but not ‘funner’?
But then I found this video from the Merriam-Webster dictionary today, from their Ask the Editor series. I’ll let you watch it first.
To summarise, the reason that we don’t usually (certainly I don’t usually) say ‘funner’ or ‘funnest’ is because of the origin of the word ‘fun’. It began as a noun, and while it has been used as an adjective since the 1840s, it’s only relatively recently that it has been accepted in everyday use as an adjective. That will surely be a simple enough explanation next time my students ask me why.
For me, I have absolutely no issues with using ‘fun’ as an adjective, always have done, and I’d say it’s perfectly acceptable to me. But as the editor in the video mentions, some people don’t like to use the word as an adjective.
Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, talked about the topic on her blog a few years ago. On her blog she writes:
The younger you are the more likely you are to think there’s nothing wrong with a sentence that uses “fun” as an adjective.
I remember (although can’t find at the moment) a news article from the last couple of years that found people over 50 (60?) preferred not to use ‘fun’ as an adjective (does anyone know the article I’m talking about?).
Grammar Girl says that when it accidentally slipped out once, she cringed because of the ‘controversial’ use of the word. She adds:
Modern sources tend to grudgingly accept “fun” as an adjective. For example, Garner’s Modern American Usage says “fun” as an adjective has reached the stage where it “becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.”
So, there it is. Fun used to be used only as a noun, which is why he can’t say ‘funner’ or ‘funnest’, but in more recent times, it’s come to be accepted as an adjective. Simple… or is it?
Did you notice what else the editor said in the Merriam-Webster video? She conceded that today, the words ‘funner’ and ‘funnest’ are becoming more common. The Merriam-Webster dictionary does indeed include them in their dictionary, next to the label sometimes.
OxfordDictionaries.com says this about ‘fun’ as an adjective:
The use of fun as an adjective meaning ‘enjoyable,’ as in we had a fun evening, is now established in informal use. The comparative and superlative forms funner and funnest are sometimes used but should be restricted to very informal contexts.
Dictionary.com includes ‘fun’ as an adjective, with the informal label, but interestingly, also includes ‘funner’ and ‘funnest’ without any further usage notes:
CollinsDictionary.com does not include the word as a separate entry under the adjective heading, but does include it as one of the entries as a modifier under the noun heading:
So it appears that different dictionaries take different approaches to it. Mignon Fogarty also has a whole post on the question of whether ‘funnest’ is a word too, which I will let you go and check out should you wish to. Will I start using ‘funner’ and ‘funnest’? Almost certainly not—just yet at least. What will I do if I hear one of my students use it in the future? At the moment, I’m still undecided. If I am not pushed for time in class, perhaps I’ll take a moment to explain it all, and hope that leads to a fruitful discussion about language and language change. I have a feeling that I will still correct it though when necessary (but for how long? 🙂 )
On a final, note, I did see this comment on the YouTube video, which I found amusing, even if somewhat slightly misinformed. You’ll have to excuse his/her attempts to prove a point by purposely misspelling some of the words.
I found the comment about it being impossible to teach to foreigners (highlighting my own) rather amusing. If only he/she realised just how much language DOES change precisely because of common usage.