It’s hard to be a grammar nerd. We tend to be held to higher linguistic standards by family and friends. I can take it, of course, because I tend to dish it out as well. I just feel sorry for my poor kids.
One day I got a text from a concerned friend who was driving one of my then teenage daughters around town and overheard her utter the word funnest (horrors!). He couldn’t resist the urge to immediately text me about this shameful degradation of the language.
You will be so ashamed of your daughter. She just used the word funnest.
Well, even if she had been wrong to use such a word, I wouldn’t have been ashamed. But was she wrong? Was my friend right in insisting that the proper term should have been most fun? It’s not a simple answer, but I don’t think so.
The word fun has been around for a long time, but was used exclusively, until some decades ago, as a noun — as in “We had some fun at the moving picture show,” or “This Model-T should produce some fun, eh, chum?” But since at least the 1950s, the use of fun as an attributive adjective has been quite common. Fun is used as an adjective in sentences like the following punch line:
A mushroom steps up to the bar and the bartender says, “Sorry, buddy, we don’t serve mushrooms here.” The mushroom replies, “Why not, pal? I’m a fun guy.”
For a while traditionalists dug in their heels and rejected the use of fun as an adjective. They would frown upon such expressions as a “fun party” or a “fun time.” But the common usage inevitably wins out over the picayune pleas of purists. The fact is that fun functions just fine as an adjective and all major dictionaries embrace this now common usage.
I believe that it’s this slow acceptance of fun as an adjective that has caused its comparative (funner) and superlative (funnest) forms to sound strange to our ears. But it’s strange that those forms are considered incorrect by some.
The fact is that one-syllable adjectives are always made comparative and superlative by adding er and est. It’s a rule that is almost never violated:
tall, taller, tallest
wise, wiser, wisest
tough tougher, toughest
fat, fatter, fattest
hot, hotter, hottest
sweet, sweeter, sweetest, etc.
Can you think of an exception? We only add more or most to adjectives with three or more syllables and sometimes to those with two. Just about never with one syllable adjectives. Why would fun be an exception to this rule?
So, there is no rational defense of more fun or most fun as more proper than funner and funnest. Of course, we are talking about English, where rationality doesn’t always matter. People were slow to accept fun as an adjective, and they are even slower to accept the comparative and superlative forms. I get that. Change happens slowly.
But it’s clear that funner and funnest are showing up more regularly in both casual and formal writing. I have no doubt that there will be question about their correctness in another generation or two.
In the meantime, you might want to stick to more fun and most fun in formal settings. Or even better—avoid the adjective fun altogether, just to be safe. But if anyone tells you funner isn’t a word, they’ve got no leg to stand on.
For the record, this post has been funner to write than most.