Guest post by Sheila MacKechnie Murtha, co-author of the English the American Way ESL series
Okay, raise your hand if you like to laugh…
Ah yes, you… and you… and you in the back… and… well, ME! Come on— everyone likes a good laugh, and we all love a good joke.
Which brings us to a very special kind of joke: PUNS.
Puns are tricky, but they’re great practice for English learners. With regular jokes you can see (or imagine) a silly face or a ridiculous situation. Easy laugh! With puns, however, it’s not so easy.
Here’s why: Puns are language jokes. What makes them funny is how they use words to mean different things. To “get” (understand) the pun/joke, you have to understand all the literal (actual) meanings of the word, as well as the situation. The pun uses this word, or one that has the same sound as another word that fits the situation. But because the first word has different meanings, it is silly in context. And of course the situation is ridiculous— that’s why it’s funny. Does it sound complicated? Sometimes it is!
Let’s take a look at some examples, and start with my favorite geography pun. This one plays on the different meanings of some words.
To get the pun, there’s a lot you need to know!
- Delaware and New Jersey are states in the U.S.
- Della can be a woman’s name.
- The ware in Delaware is pronounced the same as wear.
- Wear means to have clothes on.
- A jersey is a type of clothing.
I know, I know— that’s a lot of work for a little joke!
Okay, are you ready? Here’s the pun:
Q: What did Delaware?
A: A New Jersey.
Are you laughing? I guess I should tell you another thing about puns: People usually groan (make a sound as if they’re in pain!) when they hear them. But don’t let that stop us! Let’s take a look at a pun that uses the way words sound to be… funny. This one is a classic kids’ knock-knock joke.
To get it you need to know:
- Knock-knock is the sound of tapping on someone’s door to ask to go in.
- Oranges and bananas are types of fruit.
- In spoken English “aren’t you” sounds like “orange-chu.”
Here’s the joke. It’s a silly dialogue between two kids, repeating the same thing again and again, until…
And take a look at this—my favorite candy bar (Snickers) uses funny words. This one uses the slang word hangry—an unhappy mood when you need food… angry because you’re hungry! HANGRY!
I know, I know— You want more of these punny jokes! (Ha, did you see what I did there? 😉 See if you can tell which words make the jokes so… punny!
✴ That’s a smart spider. It made a web… and a website!
✴ My dog hates driving in the city. He can never find a barking space.
✴ When I teach English I need to wear sunglasses, because my students are so bright.
✴ Q: Why is your math book so sad?
A: It has too many problems.
Did you “get” all of them? Did you laugh 😂 or groan 😝? Do you know some fun puns? Tell me in the comments! Have fun!
Have we met? We may already be friends through my popular (thank you!) English language and American culture books: Celebrate the American Way, English the American Way, and College the American Way. If you know the books, you know that putting a warm and witty spin on things is important to me. (If you don’t know the books….. WHY NOT? 🙂)
I grew up in Brooklyn (before it was cool), lived in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and I spend every summer at a lake in the mountains of New York. That’s a lot of American culture right there! I’ve had a really fun time teaching international students at universities in four states. Students have said that my sense of humor is entertaining, but really it’s the learners who bring the fun!
I’ve been honored to receive teaching awards and recognition for corporate projects… but really I’m just doing what I love to do. Learning English is challenging enough… I hope to bring some fun while you’re doing it!