Thursday, 27 September 2012

Confusing words: fun / funny, typical / traditional

Learning a language can be like climbing a mountain sometimes.  At the base, all you can see is the first bit of the path, so you start out confidently.  After a struggle, you get to the top of a steep climb, and suddenly the mountain looks bigger.  You climb and climb again, and all you can see is more of the mountain.  Is there even a top?  The higher you go, the more the mountain seems to grow, as you start to understand more and more of the size and complexity of the language.

And let's face it, the English language can be pretty confusing at times.  There are vast numbers of words that are synonyms, or near synonyms, or sometimes synonyms and sometimes not.  So what's a student to do?

The best thing is to practise, practise, practise, and don't be afraid of making mistakes.  It may be a cliche, but mistakes really are just opportunities to learn, and very often, people will be forgiving of a learner.  (They may still laugh though - sorry!)

Anyway, here's a little tutorial on 2 pairs of words that students often confuse.  I hope that this will help you to understand and remember the difference.

1. Typical / Traditional

The basic difference is that typical refers to what is common or normal in the present, and traditional refers to what was common or normal in the past.

So this musician is playing traditional music, and wearing traditional costume: 

(The music and costume are what his people used to play and wear in the past).
While you might go to see this band playing in a typical British venue, on a typical night out:

(What any British music venue today is likely to be like, and what people are likely to do on a night out).

These are some typical language students:

(They are the kind of people you expect to be language students today).
And these children are wearing typical (Western) clothing:

(The kind of clothes that Western children usually wear).

These girls are wearing traditional clothing, which may also be their typical clothing:

(The type of clothes that people in their culture used to wear in the past, and possibly still wear today).

So, moving on to our second pair of words...

2. Fun / Funny

This one is slightly more complicated, because there's more than one meaning for each word, but let's have a go.

Frisbee is a fun activity for kids, because it is enjoyable.  Children have fun doing it.

(The adjective fun, meaning enjoyable, is connected to the noun fun, meaning enjoyment).

Similarly, a theme park can be a fun day out, and a party, a fun night out.
This boat is painted in fun colours, because the colours are bright and unexpected.  Maybe they are even childish.

Funny has two meanings, usually referred to as "funny ha-ha" (it makes you laugh) and "funny peculiar" (it's strange).  These are obviously very different things, and native speakers often have to ask for clarification: "Is that funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?"

This Shakespeare duck is funny, because he's cute and he's designed to make you laugh.

(So, funny ha-ha).

A comedian, a joke, a film and a book can all be funny in this way, if they make you laugh.

This house is funny, because it's an unusual shape:

(It's funny peculiar).

On a funny day, lots of strange things happen.  A funny smell in your fridge might mean that you need to throw some food away.  Hearing a funny noise in your house late at night can be frightening.

Now it gets a bit stranger...

This zombie is giving you a funny look:

(The meaning is funny peculiar, because a funny look is either puzzled or angry).

In contrast, this girl is pulling a funny face.

(The meaning is funny ha-ha, because it makes you laugh - it's not a serious face).

Sometimes the same thing can be both kinds of funny.

This bus statue makes me laugh (it's funny), but it's also very strange (or funny).  I also think it's rather fun (enjoyable, unexpected and childish).

In the end, funniness is a matter of opinion, so don't worry about it too much.  Have fun!

All images taken from by @CliveSir, @worldteacher, @pysproblem81, @sandymillin, @ayearinthelifeof, @dfogarty, @Senicko, @aClilToClimb, @foster_timothy, @purple_steph, @leoselivan, @eltpics used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

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