Defining English: Fun vs. Funny

Fun and funny are two words that lots of non-native English speaking students struggle with. There’s a fine line between the two meanings of fun and funny, but getting them wrong can cause a great deal of confusion for the person you’re speaking to.

 

Let’s start with a simple definition of these two adjectives:

Funny (adj.): Causing laughter or amusement

He’s a very funny comedian.

 

Fun (adj.): Causing enjoyment/ (n.)

That was a really fun roller coaster!

(n.): Enjoyment or playfulness

She’s full of fun.

 

Remember: Fun can also be used as an abstract noun, while funny is only ever an adjective.

In short, fun things make you happy, while funny things make you laugh out loud. These are the most common uses for these two words.

 

fun vs. funny
Something can be fun and funny at the same time.

 

Advanced uses

Intermediate to advanced learners may be aware of some other uses of fun and funny. These meanings arise from the complicated history of the word fun and the tendency of English people to use common words ironically.

In Middle English, the word “fon” had a similar meaning to the modern verb "to fool," and meant to trick, cheat, or hoax somebody. After the Great Vowel Shift that took place between 1350 AD and 1700 AD, ‘fon’ became ‘fun’, and the meaning transformed – seemingly because of the enjoyment associated with tricking somebody else!

The negative meanings of the old word “fon” are echoed in the modern usage of the term “to make fun of" somebody, which means to tease or ridicule.

To make fun of (Verb ph [idiom]): Subject to laughter, teasing or ridicule

They made fun of me at school today.

 

These negative undertones also apply to the word funny in some contexts. When used ironically, the word funny can mean odd, suspicious, or strange.

Funny (adj.)
1. Odd, strange; “These apples look funny.”
3. Rude; “Don’t get funny with me young man!”
4. Not honest or suspicious looking; “That monkey is funny-looking; I think he’s stealing your sandwiches.”

 

Fun(!) fact: In Japanese, the word 面白い(pronounced ‘omoshiroi’) can mean be used to mean both ‘fun’ and ‘funny’, as well as ‘interesting’.

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