Can ‘fun’ be an adjective?

Jerry Jones  writing recently in the Bucks County Courier Times objects to the following use of the word fun:

  • Every day should be as fun as a Phillies game

What’s the problem? Well, according to Jones, the sentence above is ungrammatical. He explains why:

The sentence contains a blatantly ungrammatical misuse of the word “fun,” and even worse, the way the sentence was structured made no sense whatsoever. Almost any elementary school teacher will tell you, it’s grammatically incorrect to say “as fun” or “so fun.” In these instances, “as” and “so” are adverbs, and “fun” is a noun, and adverbs never modify nouns. The noun “fun” should be modified with the preposition “much,” as in “as much fun” or “so much fun.”

This use of fun has been discussed by grammarians for a long time, and it seems that Jones has also been aware of it for decades. He writes:

The first time I ever heard “that was so fun” was somewhere in the late-1960s in a conversation with my eldest son, Jerry, who was then still in elementary school. He was describing some school activity he and his classmates had obviously enjoyed. “What was that you just said?” I asked incredulously, hoping I had misunderstood my normally well-spoken son. “That was so fun,” he repeated. “That’s totally ungrammatical,” I insisted. “Fun is a noun.” Beyond that, it sounds stupid.

Is Jones right? Is fun always a noun?

It seems that English has changed over time, and that fun can be used both as a noun and as an adjective. What’s the evidence for this? Let’s first look at some data in which fun is used:

  • That should be fun
  • She’s so completely lovely and fun and joyful.

These examples are from the ICE-GB Corpus at UCL, a collection of authentic spoken and written English. In these cases fun occurs after the linking verb be. In this position it can be a noun or an adjective, because after linking verbs both nouns and adjectives can occur. However, notice how in the second example fun occurs in a list of words that includes lovely and joyful. These are adjectives. Now, that doesn’t prove that fun is also an adjective, but it does suggest it.

But consider now the following attested data from a recent lecture by David Denison:

  • Doing something fun like redecorating your room…is really interesting biz for a teen who loves being busy. (1951 OED v. teen n.2)
  • Andrew and I are having a very fun time together, yes. (1988, COCA)
  • And they are so fun to eat! (1979 Chuck Kinder, The Silver Ghost, COHA)
  • […] to a place as fun and earthy as a mud fight (1990 San Francisco Chronicle, COCA)
  •  Don’t be too worried if the software seems too fun to be educational. (1993, COCA)
  • Walking and looking is boring. Touching is funner. (1990 Denver Post, COCA)
  • It used to be buying clothes was one of the funnest things in the world; – now it’s more a necessity. (1990 Time 1990/02/19, TMC)

For some speakers, Denison among them, not all of these examples are acceptable, but it’s clear from attested usage that fun as an adjective has been part of some speakers’ idiolects for quite a long time. In the last two examples funner and funnest, as comparative and superlative forms, are especially revealing.

The word fun can even be used as a verb, as in the recent car advertisement slogan Go fun yourself.

So, rather than deny that fun can be an adjective or a verb, we need to recognise that English is not static, and that over time words can be used in different ways.

The full text of David Denison’s lecture can be found here.

2 thoughts on “Can ‘fun’ be an adjective?

  1. Hi Bas,

    I’m loving this blog of yours, here are a few thoughts:

    FUN did start as a noun but became an adjective through calque.

    Nouns can all be quantified in some way or another, here:
    I am having so much fun = it is a lot of fun

    But it can be rewritten along the same lines as WORK
    I have so much work = this is so much work

    In which case:
    I am having so much fun = this is so much fun

    But then the scope of adjectives can be modified by adverbs as in:
    This is so great, this is so interesting, this is so bad

    And by calque and distortion:
    “This is so much fun” became “This is so fun”
    (where the quantifier “so much” and the adverb “so” somehow got mixed up because they operate similar changes, one in quantity and the other in degree)

    The more people used it, the more it spread… and when every one ends up making the same mistake, that mistake is not a mistake any longer, it becomes correct through its overuse.
    Just think of the French and their misuse of “malgré que”…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am obviously behind times in regard to constantly evolving English but to me “do something fun”, rather than saying “do something that is fun” or “for fun”, sounds awfully wrong.

    Like

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