Pitfalls: Funny

warning symbol of exclamation point in triangle, by zeimusu at openclipart.org

Funny looks like it should mean the same thing as “fun.” But it doesn’t.

“Fun” is an adjective for something you enjoy, something you like doing, something that makes you happy. Playing a game is fun. Going sightseeing is fun. It’s fun to play with a kitten. Skiing looks like fun. I had a fun day at the beach.

“Funny” is an adjective with two main meanings: 1) Strange or weird. This food tastes funny. This medicine makes me feel funny. It’s funny that you already know my brother. Your eye looks funny. I got a funny phone call.
2) Something that makes you laugh at it. That movie was funny. Your puppy is so funny. The kitten is funny when it plays with its tail. That movie looks funny. I heard a funny joke.

It can be hard to tell whether someone is using meaning 1 or 2 for “funny,” so English speakers sometimes have this kind of conversation:

Aiko: It was nice to meet your mother. She’s funny.
Ben: Funny-weird or funny-haha?
Aiko: Funny-haha! She has a great sense of humor and she told some great jokes.

When Ben says “Funny-weird or funny-haha?” he is asking a common question in English, which is to check on which meaning of “funny” Aiko is using. This phrase is pretty common in English, and you can use it too.

If someone is telling jokes and trying to make you laugh, then it’s fine to say that the person is funny. However, other times it’s not OK. It will make the other person feel bad.

For example, let’s imagine you come to my Thanksgiving dinner and you have a good time:

You: The dinner was really fun.
Me (with a smile): Aw, thank you. I’m so glad you came.

You: The dinner was really funny.
Me (frown): Really? Why?

In Conversation B, I’m not happy because you said “funny.” As a result, I think my dinner either was strange to you or made you laugh at it. I’m worried. What was wrong?

Laughing is usually a sign of enjoying yourself in American culture. However, laughing at something can also mean that you think it is stupid or not good. So be careful! If you say a party, a dinner, a gift, etc. was “funny” when you meant to say “fun,” you might make someone very unhappy.

(A comedy movie can be fun and funny, of course, because a) you’ll have fun watching it, and b) you are supposed to laugh at it.)

One way to help yourself remember this kind of difference is to remember the word in one sentence for each meaning. Pick natural-sounding sentences that make the meaning clear to you. For example —

“Your party was a lot of fun.” (fun)
“This purple-colored bread tastes funny.” (funny 1)
“That joke was really funny.” (funny 2)

2 thoughts on “Pitfalls: Funny”

  1. The post subtly highlights the different usages of the word “funny”. Keep the good work going !!

  2. The two uses of ‘funny’ are also used in old jokes about cannibals eating clowns and saying they ‘taste funny’.

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