Not A Newbie, but Maybe Worth a Mention

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jul 16 16:09:37 UTC 2008

On Jul 16, 2008, at 5:36 AM, Neal Whitman wrote:

> I blogged about attributive adjectives phrases involving 'too' a few
> years
> ago (
> baby/) and
> found some examples involving mass nouns and plural nouns like yours.

i have one of-less example like Doug Harris's  "that great a
grades" (with a + PL):

too big a mortgages
   (Chris Farrell, APM’s Marketplace Money 4/27/08)

as for examples with of, i have one with  of + a + PL:

... there were too harsh of a interrogation techniques going on...
   (Jackie Northam, NPR’s Saturday Morning Edition, 6/4/05)

and more with  of + PL  and  of + Mass, like the five examples in
Neal's 2004 blog: "too small of rooms", "too big of paper", for

all these examples have "exceptional degree marking" (EDM), with the
degree adverbials too, that, how, so, etc. (which we've talked about
several times here).

EDM comes in two flavors, the older standard without of, and the newer
variant (which spread rapidly in the 20th century) with of.  both
normally occur only with singular count nouns, marked with the
indefinite article:
   -of EDM: too big a dog (cf. ordinary degree marking: a very big dog)
   +of EDM: too big of a dog

the first examples above, with DEG + Adj + a + PL, might be a
reanalysis of (of-less) EDM in which the indefinite article is taken
to be some kind of mere constructional marker, rather than having
semantic content of its own.

the others look like simple extensions of +of EDM.  in EDM,  the a +
CountSgN looks like a full NP, but in fact it can be seen as
functioning like a NP-internal nominal constituent -- in which case,
bare plurals and bare mass nouns might be able to fill this slot.


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