English Plus+ News, December 2002

"Fun" Problems and Other Questions You Asked

This issue is devoted to questions some of you have written us from time to time. Our experience is that if one person has a question, it is very likely others are wondering the same thing.

A "Fun" Topic

There is a tendency in English to make nouns into adjectives. Sometimes this is necessary because there is no related adjective and the word does not sound right when a suffix is added to it. However, sometimes this is done because of a misunderstanding of the language. One such misunderstanding is the use of the word fun.

We sometimes say or hear others say things like, "He is a fun person" or "We had a fun day." At best, such sentences are nonstandard. Fun is a noun.

This makes sense if you think of how we normally use the word. "We had fun" (direct object) or "That game is a lot of fun" (object of preposition). The problem comes because, like any noun, fun can be a predicate nominative. So we say, "That game is fun." Fun here is a noun, not an adjective.

As with most nouns, we can speak of something being or having more fun just as we speak of someone having more money or something taking more time. However, expressions such as funner do not exist because fun is not an adjective or adverb.

What does this mean for our language? Well, in everyday speech we often say things that we would never write. To make a statement like "He is a fun person" standard, simply write "He is fun" or "He likes to have fun." To rewrite "We had a fun day," say "We had a day of fun" or "We had fun today."

What is the adjective form of fun? Funny. Of course, funnier and funniest are the standard comparative and superlative.

Some newer dictionaries may note that fun is used an adjective, but such an entry would be found in a descriptive dictionary (see our November 2000 newsletter) . Descriptive dictionaries simply describe how a word or phrase is used, but seldom say anything about its usage or propriety. Historically and for precision, avoid using fun as an adjective in any kind of formal or standard speech or writing.

Multiple Personal Titles

We had an interesting question from one user who asked about using multiple personal titles. Most frequently we see this when a clergyman is also a doctor. What is the correct usage in such a case?

Somehow part of my family has become embroiled in a silly debate over the use of titles when addressing others. My understanding is that common correct titles in America are Mr., Ms., Mrs., Miss, or Dr. Also, that Rev. is not a title, but an adjective which qualifies a title (The Rev. Ms. Jane Jones, etc.). Can you offer us a simplified rule regarding the use of professional or academic titles in the U.S.? Thank you in advance for your kind assistance.
Reverend is a title common in correspondence as in Rev. Jane Jones. It is occasionally used with other titles. In virtually every instance, it comes before the other titles. In that case the word the often precedes it in speech. An ordained doctor, for example, could be called the Reverend Doctor Smith, or Rev. Dr. Smith, if abbreviated. This is more typical of the English, but we do see it in some academic circles in the United States. In that usage, it sounds more like an adjective, analogous to "the distinguished Doctor Smith," but it is a title that goes with a name.

For what it is worth, sometimes the confusion comes because of the two similar words Reverend and reverent. Reverend in English is a title applied to a religious person, normally an ordained minister. Reverent is an adjective meaning "pious" or "respectful." Both words have revere as a root--Reverend literally from Latin means "being revered" while reverent means "revering."

In many situations, when a person has more than one title, the most appropriate title take precedence. If you have ever seen the television show M*A*S*H, the main characters were army doctors. While occasionally "Hawkeye" was called Dr. Pierce, he was usually called Captain Pierce because of the military setting. So in a church our Rev. Dr. Smith would more likely be called Rev. Smith (or Father Smith or Pastor Smith or Elder Smith or Brother Smith, depending on the practice), while in a school or workplace he would be more likely called Dr. Smith. In many workplaces and certainly in most neighborhoods, he would probably just be called Mr. Smith, especially in America.

Capitalizing Holidays

In the United States from mid-November to mid-January, we have numerous holidays. It is not surprising that one of our readers asked us this question.

Two co-workers asked me if holiday in Thanksgiving holiday is capitalized. I told them no, that the name of the holiday is, but holiday itself is not, unless referring to the holiday. I am not sure if I am correct on this. Is there a specific rule I can show them?

You are correct. Simply, the key word to remember is name. If the word is part of the name, then it is capitalized because names are capitalized. Thanksgiving is the name of the holiday. Holiday defines it, but it is not part of the name.

Sometimes people question this because the word day is sometimes part of the name of holiday as in Labor Day. Sometimes we speak of Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. In those cases the word day is considered part of the name because it names the specific day. Holiday is normally not part of the name unless you are identifying a specific named vacation period. Even then, not all authorities recognize this usage.

Only in the Movies?

Here is another good question from a person who is a non-native speaker of English but has studied English formally for years.

I learned that shall is just used with I and We, but when I watched the movie Gladiator (by Ridley Scott) I heard shall used with all pronouns including he, she, and they. Is this common in spoken English?

Shall can be used with any pronoun. It is most commonly used with I and we because it does suggest a strong intent, and we know our own intentions the best. There is nothing wrong with using it with other pronouns, however.

In America, shall is commonly used in legal documents to emphasize a future action that someone must take: "In the event that the product fails within two years, the manufacturer shall replace the product." This is a future action which the person must perform. It is a kind of future imperative, though most would not use that term.

The Exception?

Having said all that, some authorities--especially in England--do teach the following "rule" about the difference between shall and will.

Simple future is I shall and we shall while the rest of the pronouns or corresponding nouns take will--you will, he will, and they will.

Imperative future uses the opposite word, so for an action someone must take, use I will and we will while the rest of the pronouns use the opposite--you shall, she shall, and they shall.

This is not common in everyday use at all, especially in America, but be aware that some English speakers are taught this and may understand the words this way. If you are writing or speaking to such an audience, you may want to keep this in mind.

We wish all our readers the best for the coming year.

May all your anguish be vanquished,

May all your anguish be vanquished,
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