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Compared to other languages, English is in practice pretty indifferent with regards to parts of speech. The lines are often blurry. I'm curious about the following phrase:

It's fun.

Usually, I'd think that "fun" is a noun. For instance I can have lots of it. However, there are phrasings where it is used much like a qualifier.

It was a fun ride.

Just looking at the structure, it could be either an adjective or a noun in the phrase in question.

It's fun/milk. It's fun/nice.

My first impulse was "noun" but seeing how there is no article and how most phrasings that express roughly the same would use an adjective, I am not so sure anymore. Here are my questions.

  • What part of speech is "fun" in the phrase?
  • Do native speakers clearly perceive it as noun or adjective respectively or would both readings make sense on an intuition level?
  • It can actually be seen as both, since we don't change the linking verb between predicate nouns and adjectives. Fun is both a noun and an adjective. I as a native speaker do not think "noun" or "adjective" when saying this sentence or others like it; I just think "fun" and intuitively understand it to mean "fun". – Jonathan Spirit Jan 27 '15 at 19:36
  • To elaborate on "seeing how there is no article", not all nouns need articles. Plural nouns don't necessarily need an article: "I see cats" and neither do uncountable nouns. Fun is an uncountable noun, like water: "I drink water." – Jonathan Spirit Jan 27 '15 at 19:38
  • I remember hearing somewhere that "fun" used to only be a noun, but many people nowadays use it as an adjective as well. Its originally being a noun supposedly explains the non-standard nature of *funner, *funnest. – sumelic Jan 27 '15 at 19:51
  • Intuititively I think of fun as an adjective in It's fun, analogous to It's nice, but it can also be a noun in We're going to have fun. – Barmar Jan 27 '15 at 20:56
  • etymonline.com/… The etymology implies that both the adjectival use and the noun use arose from the OE verb fonnen. The adjectival has older attestation, but that doesn't always prove source. It is becoming obsolete, but fun is still occasionally used as a verb as tchrist alluded to in another comment. I agree with ScotM that flexibility is the more accurate perception of the native speaker when it comes to parts of speech. It drives the analytic types crazy, that we don't feel compelled to draw inside the lines :-) – Good A.M. Jan 28 '15 at 16:45
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Indifferent is not the correct word to describe the way native English speakers regard parts of speech; it's more like flexible:

In the unambiguous expression:

the children enjoyed the fun and games

Fun is a noun.

In the unambiguous expression:

the children enjoyed the fun games

Fun is an adjective.

In the ambiguous expression:

it's fun

The larger context will determine the part of speech:

Fun is renaming it as a predicate noun.

or

Fun is describing it as a predicate adjective.

As long as people can perceive, use and interpret parts of speech properly, it is not so important to label them. We teach our children to label parts of speech so that they can learn to speak, read and write properly. As instructors, the labels remain supremely relevant to us, but once our students can speak, read and write, the labels quickly become less relevant to them. Those who never discuss parts of speech, tend to forget the significance of the labels, because they don't need the labels to communicate.

  • It almost doesn't make a difference in the ambiguous case. Fun and games are fun games. – Barmar Jan 27 '15 at 22:13
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    @Eman "Part of speech" is merely a madey-uppy classification scheme dreamt up to try to describe what words are doing. It is imperfect and approximate at best, with holes and paradoxes like any other formal system. Native speakers couldn't care less because such labels DO NOT MATTER to them, nor should they. They know how to use words correctly without needing to know which of the coupla dozen parts of speech somebody decided those words "are". – tchrist Jan 27 '15 at 23:26
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    @Emanuel Again, that doesn't matter to a native speaker; it's just a translator's problem. And even there, the putative part of speech is much less important than the actual meaning of the word. For example I can tell you to look up ban as a noun, and you still will not know what I am talking about, particularly considering that I was talking about the governors or viceroys of certain military districts in Hungary, Slavonia, and Croatia who take command during times of war, and when I chose to ban someone, they become a ban temporarily. See the problem? Parts of speech don't matter much. – tchrist Jan 27 '15 at 23:39
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    Perlas a los cerdos! – ScotM Jan 27 '15 at 23:44
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    Now you’re just funnin’ with ’em. :) – tchrist Jan 28 '15 at 0:17
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The adverb "very" can modify adjectives, so if "fun" in "It's fun" were an adjective, you would be able to say *"It's very fun." But you can't (at least, not in my opinion). That would have to be expressed as "It's a lot of fun", which has "fun" as object of a preposition and so a noun. So, I think the "fun" you asked about is a noun and not an adjective.

Elsewhere, "fun" is an adjective and can be modified by "very": "The carousel is a very fun ride", where "ride" is a noun modified by the adjective "fun" and "fun" is modified by "very".

  • Very good point. Google Ngram shows very few hits for very fun, many for a lot of fun. – Barmar Jan 27 '15 at 22:53
  • What do you think of Uno? It's fun! It's quite fun. It's uproariously fun! It's exceedingly fun! – ScotM Jan 27 '15 at 23:33
  • Uh, Arduino Uno? – Greg Lee Jan 27 '15 at 23:52
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    Fun didn't use to be an adjective. The original 1828 Webster's dictionary has "FUN, noun Sport; vulgar merriment. A low word." The first Webster's International (1892) has "fun, n. Sport; merriment." This is probably why we say more fun and not funner, and why "it's very fun" sounds wrong. – Peter Shor Jan 28 '15 at 2:00
  • I believe ScotM refers to the card came Uno. I fun you not, it's loads of fun for fun people! The adverbial argument has some merit, but the flexibility of fun seems to eat it alive. – Good A.M. Jan 28 '15 at 16:49
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Nouns can be used as compound elements for compound nouns as in fruit tree, oil well etc. If it comes to describing compound nouns consisting of two nouns I would not use the term adjective for the first noun. This is a confusion of terms. There should be special terms for word classes, word groups, sentence structures and word composition. If one term is used in several categories this is unclear terminology.

  • Good point! It would be perfectly acceptable to analyze fun games as a compound noun, but the persistent use of that construction in multiple compounds eventually gives rise to an adjectival designation! – Good A.M. Jan 28 '15 at 16:55
  • Compound nouns are dictionary entries. At least you find them in larger dictionaries. A combination of an adjective and a noun is normally not registered in dictionaries. With the exception of cases where adjective + noun are a fixed expression as red herring. But if a compond noun is decribed as adjective + noun it is totally unclear what is meant. The first compound element may be a normal adjective as in red herring or it may be a noun as in herring gull. And I think such differences should be described with clear terms. – rogermue Jan 28 '15 at 19:08
  • Confusion of labels. Finding fun in a dictionary as an adjective, noun and verb is unsatisfactory? Sounds like you are proposing to scrap the status quo and reorganize our study of the English language. Sounds like an interesting dissertation :-) – Good A.M. Jan 28 '15 at 20:29
  • There are dictionaries or grammars which have special terms such as combining form. – rogermue Jan 28 '15 at 20:36
  • I've just found a pair like heavyweight and a heavy weight. It would not be appropriate to say heavy is an adjective in both cases. Actually that explains nothing and you don't see what is meant. – rogermue Jan 29 '15 at 7:36

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