Main page content
"It’s very fun" may no longer be very funny
(Terminology Update, Volume 36, Number 2, 2003, page 13)
The very mention of the word very creates suspicion in my mind when it is not preceded by a definite or indefinite article and the word it modifies is normally considered to be a noun.
The word very is usually an adverb which doubles up as an adjective to mean mere or sheer, as in the popular American ballad: "The very thought of you makes my heart weep . . . "; or identical or same, as in "The very fans who hated the Ottawa Senators are now flocking to see them."
As an adverb, very means greatly, much, extremely. It modifies adjectives and other adverbs. In this sense, the expression very fun, often used by junior grade students (my son included), does not ring true because fun is neither truly an adjective as correctly used in very happy, nor an adverb as in very happily, and although it is a noun, as in It’s very fun, it is not preceded by a definite or indefinite article, or even by a possessive adjective as in His very wife was selected for him by another. Thus, until very recently before I decided to do a little probing, my reaction had always been one of horror whenever I heard or read the expression very fun. My research now shows that the use of fun as both an attributive and predicative adjective has been popular ever since the mid-1960s and in fact can be traced back to the Second World War.
There have been countless examples of citations documented over the past fifty years in letters, articles, newspaper reports, and material promoting public entertainment and amusement. Thus, fun nights, fun parties, fun cars, fun books, fun sailing, a fun thing to do, or even in reference to people, a fun person to be with, are all slogans easily identified during this period. In fact, what we witnessed then, as we do today, was merely another example of language evolution in action.
The language liberals of our present generation, these young school graders, have simply maintained the tradition of liberalizing the English language, and as a result, very fun is an expression their parents now use on the airwaves, in informal conversational exchange, and in writing. Some English-language dictionaries have now officially acknowledged fun as an adjective whose use is worthy of mention, though not yet accepted in formal writing. Thus, we continue to hear and read that the YMCA has a very fun and informative summer program for kids or that a particular game is very fun to play. This adjectival use of fun leads logically to a variety of other adverbs used to convey the various nuances and degrees of fun as in It’s always rather fun to work on Christmas Eve or This Robertson Davies book is tremendously fun to read, a recommendation voiced by a McGill University lecturer during a recent CBC radio interview.
In addition, if we rely solely on the evidence gleaned from sources such as newspapers and advertising company literature, fun has steadily gained admission to the standard class of adjectives. However, on the Internet it has already adopted both a comparative and a superlative form, though not yet in serious writing. Thus, much like the promotional slogans of fifty years ago, we read of faster, funner and more efficient ways of doing things, funner summers and funner designs, as well as the funnest place on earth or the funnest way to find love.
As languages evolve, usage and meanings change by popular and current demand. Bearing this in mind, this language "stiff" is no longer surprised or bothered by the examples below that were taken from written and oral sources. Do I consider the adjectival use of fun to be acceptable in all contexts, particularly in formal written documentation? The answer is no. At least, not for the present. It should certainly be avoided in standard and formal English. So, until further notice, stay tuned. How very fun it is!
— This is a very fun program.
— You will find this activity challenging and very fun for children and adults alike.
— Playing the flute is not very fun.
— I hope you have fun on my very fun web page.
— Building your computer can be a very fun process.
— Yu-Gi-Oh is a very fun and addictive game to play.
— Retirement is getting to be a funner option.
— This school year was funner than last year’s.
— Dancing is funner than watching.
— This is the funnest Christmas toy.
— Our site provides the funnest way to make a million.
— Mr. Halliday’s class was the funnest of them all.
— Lacrosse is funner than skiing, but hockey is the funnest of them all.
It may be safe to say then that "It’s very fun" is no longer very funny, and although this language "stiff" still winces at its very mention, it should be taken seriously. The computer age is alive and well, and soon the next generations may wince at my very claim that I had great fun preparing this article (instead of It was very fun writing this article). Who knows where all this will lead?
Barber, Katherine, ed. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Don Mills, Ont., Oxford University Press, 2001.
Fowler, Henry W. The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Rev. 3rd ed., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1998, 1996.
Gowers, Ernest. The Complete Plain Words, 2nd ed., Harmondsworth, Eng., Penguin Books, 1973.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Springfield, Mass., Merriam-Webster, 1994.
Pearsall, Judy, ed. The New Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1998.
Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed., New York, Random House, 1993.
Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, by the editors of American Heritage Dictionaries, 3rd ed., Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Sinclair, John M. Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, New ed., London, HarperCollins, 1995.
Sinclair, John M. Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, 3rd ed., London, HarperCollins, 2001.
Thompson, Della, ed. The Concise Dictionary of Current English, 9th ed., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, editor in chief, Philip Babcock Gove, Springfield, Mass., Merriam-Webster, 1993.
Copyright notice for Favourite Articles
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Services and Procurement
A tool created and made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada