Comical and hysterical (Words that mean funny)

Melody A/iStock/Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

‘A day without laughter is a day wasted,’ said Charlie Chaplin, the comic actor and filmmaker. Whether or not you agree with him, you’ll almost certainly want to describe, in English, things that are funny. In this week’s post, we’ll provide you with a range of words to help you do just that.

Starting with synonyms for ‘funny’, humorous is often used to describe writing, films, remarks etc. that are intended to make you laugh:

humorous stories / poems

If something is funny and entertaining, you might describe it as amusing:

I find his articles quite amusing.

an amusing anecdote

If something is extremely funny, you can say it is hilarious: Some of the scenes are hilarious. A slightly informal way of saying this is side-splitting or side-splittingly funny:

It’s not side-splitting comedy, but it is quite amusing.

One reviewer described the show as ‘side-splittingly funny’.

Something that you are reading or watching that makes you laugh so much that you make a noise may be described as laugh-out-loud funnyFor me, the film wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it was quite amusing.

Another adjective meaning ‘hilarious’ is hysterical. It’s generally used in informal, spoken English:

As he picked up one box, he dropped another and soon they were all over the floor. It was hysterical.

Another mainly spoken word for ‘very funny’ is priceless:

You should have seen the look on her face when she saw his outfit. It was priceless!

Something that is comical, meanwhile, makes you want to laugh because it’s slightly strange or silly:

Do I look comical in this hat?

(Note that the adjective comic means ‘related to or having the quality of comedy’: comic actor / performance)

A comment that is tongue in cheek is intended to be understood as a joke, although it may look or sound serious:

He said he’d always been a huge fan of the director, which I assumed was tongue in cheek.

A programme or piece of writing, etc. that is light-hearted is funny and not intended to be understood as serious or important:

It’s supposed to be a light-hearted look at the world of politics.

If someone is trying to be funny in a situation where this is not appropriate, you might say they are being facetious:

I hope he didn’t think I was being facetious.

Finally, as many of you will know, the word funny also means ‘strange’. Sometimes, when a person describes someone as ‘funny’, it’s impossible to know which sense they mean, in which case you might ask, Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar? (‘Peculiar’ means ‘strange’):

A: I hadn’t met Abbie before. She’s funny, isn’t she?

B: Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?

A: I meant ‘funny’! She really made me laugh!

We hope you find plenty of things to laugh at this week!

18 thoughts on “Comical and hysterical (Words that mean funny)

    1. D.S.R.Raju

      The three stooges trying to lift three heavy boxes with each other’s help which appears endless, is side-splittingly funny.

  1. kappi kappi my wing my wing

    It really surprised me that hysterical can be used as a substitute for hilarious. I thought the word hysterical means much more like a combination of emotions and often indicates sad emotion types. It’s the first time I saw hysterical used in such a context. Thx for the priceless effort. Priceless ha-ha or priceless gold? just contributed to English w/ my new made-up phrase I guess.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! Yes, ‘hysterical’ has the main meaning of being out of control with fear, anger, etc. but it is also sometimes used in speech to mean ‘hilarious’. Best wishes from Cambridge.

    2. Ricardo Lira

      I actually knew all the ‘ funny ‘ words except for ‘ tongue in cheek ‘ which hasn’t still sunk in. It will eventually I’m sure. Thanks for the post. Again very useful.

  2. Kate, thank you very much for sharing valuable information. There is a metaphorical phrase in your list I liked most: priceless. That’s what the doctor ordered. 🙂
    Also, thanks for “facetious”, “tongue in cheek” and a prying phrase “Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?”

  3. Reblogged this on rPod Coworking Space and commented:
    😂 Laughter is the best medicine – or so they say!

    😂 Let us know what you’ve had to laugh about this week. Try using an alternative word to ‘funny’.

    😂 For more about these words, check out this Cambridge Dictionary blog:

  4. Eduardo Paulo Araújo

    Thank you so much, Kate, for your great blog. I can’t believe I’ve come across such enlightening content only recently.
    Late comment to the thread: I’ve definitely seen ‘side splitting/splittingly’ around, but, at least in my experience with American English, used seemingly exclusively by older speakers. Do you perceive a generational aspect about that term, or am I going out on a limb here?
    Thanks for any input.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Eduardo! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. You’ve asked a really good question and I’m just pondering it…I don’t know if it’s an age thing or whether it’s just that we often use it negatively, as my examples suggest. Or it might be that young people have a different, informal way of describing things that are hilarious. Sorry not to be more definitive! Best wishes from Cambridge.

Leave a Reply