Of (was: (of) a: where's the plural?)

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun Apr 18 18:31:21 UTC 2004

On Apr 17, 2004, at 1:54 PM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:

> ...To me, there is no version without the "of". "He's too good a
> shooter"
> comes from "good of a" where the "of" is reduced to a schwa and
> phonetically combines with the article.

And Arnold Zwicky replied:

this is not the historical sequence.  the "of"-less version is older.

which is not to say that you can't have reanalyzed things as the


I say:

For me, a speaker of Standard Southern British English, 'too good of a' is
definitely non-standard.  I wouldn't swear it was never heard in Britain, but
it's certainly not part of my dialect.  In fact, I think that prescriptivists
in schools and the like would actually frown on it, maybe because, as someone
else (sorry I don't have the quote by me at the moment) has remarked, the 'of'
adds nothing.

>  The plural works fine: They're too
> good a (=of) shooters.

"They're too good of shooters" / "They're too good a shooters" just sounded
wrong to me, but I'm not sure how I *would* render the plural:  "They're too
good shooters" would be wrong in writing too, and I would always interpret
[tu:] as '2' (where it would be correct).  I think I might have to resort to
paraphrase:  "They're too good as shooters".

I may be getting interference here from the fact that in British English the
agentive noun from 'shoot' isn't usually 'shooter' but 'shot'.  Funnily,
"They're too good shots" is marginally acceptable to me but, going back to the
original sentence and substituting for 'shooters' another agentive noun which
*is* transparently derived from verb + <er>, I have the same 'unacceptable'
judgement as I did for the sentence with 'shooters':  *"They're too good

> The question "How good a (=of) shooters are they" is just fine as well.

Likewise, I can't do this, and would have to resort to paraphrase -  "How good
are they as shooters / buyers?" - but "How good shots are they?" is marginally


Then Arnold said:

i wouldn't flatly deny that there are instances of "of" that are always
v-less, but i can't produce any examples.  maybe there are speakers
with invariant "alotta" and "lotsa"?

I say:

There are.  The one that springs to mind is the sometime singer and now
chat-show / game-show presenter from Liverpool, Cilla Black, whose catchphrase
is "[There'll be a] lorra lorra laffs".  It's always spelt like this, to
reflect how it's said.  I think that the [v]-less 'of' is a feature of the
Liverpool dialect, as it probably is of the Newcastle one, though I'm not from
those places;  I am from London, though not the part where Cockney is spoken,
but I know it's a feature of the (probably working-class) Cockney accent;  I
think that the [v] in 'of' probably only surfaces before vowels and under
emphasis there.

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

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