October 19, 2010

fun-funner-funnest

A student asked me today why the form funner is considered incorrect -- wouldn't one expect a one-syllable adjective to form its comparative and superlative on -er/-est rather than synthetically, with more and most?

Absolutely. At least that's Steve Jobs's point of view.





The thing about fun, however, is that for many people it is not really an adjective yet. And in predicative uses like The concert was fun, it's hard to say if fun is an adjective or a noun, since both can be used predicatively (John is foolish/a fool). The situation becomes clearer once one includes elements that uniquely specify either nouns or adjectives, such as quantifiers. In The concert was a lot of fun, fun can only be a noun. You can only quantify nouns, but not adjectives. In The concert was very fun, on the other hand, fun clearly is an adjective, since nouns cannot be specified by degree adverbs (You can be very foolish, but you can't be very fool). So, while there may be situations where it's hard to say if fun is used as an adjective or a noun, it is very clear that it can be used as an adjective. And as an adjective, it would form the comparative with -er. The OED doesn't give the adjective its own entry yet, but recognizes in the entry for the noun that it can be used attributively (as in a fun game) and is "passing into [an] adj[ective] with the sense 'amusing, entertaining, enjoyable'."

Want more? The Boston Globe also has a column on the subject (including data from the OED), and LanguageLog has a posting that discusses the use of double comparatives like funnerer ("Clever quasi-grammatical stake-raising or pathetic attempt at hipness? You decide.")

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