Idiolect or more widespread?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue May 30 19:53:46 UTC 2006

On 5/30/06, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at> wrote:
> we're dealing here with various kinds of non-attributive (neither
> adjective nor noun) premodifiers  of nouns.  the big fact is that
> these come in two types (i'm avoiding assigning category labels
> here): the ones that combine with non-pronominal Bare Noun
> Expressions (like "(big) chicken", "(big) chickens". and "(big)
> poultry") and the ones that combine witn Full Noun Expressions (like
> "the"/Demonstrative/Possessives "chickens" and pronouns).
> premodifiers combining with plural Bare Noun Expressions come in
> three types:
>    (a) [most of them] do not allow "of": a dozen, twelve, many, etc.
>    (b) [a few] require "of": a lot, lots
>    (c) [a few] swing either way: a couple [for me]
> premodifiers combining with Full Noun Expressions mostly just require
> "of", period.
> the kicker is that a whole hell of a lot of premodifiers combine with
> both Bare and Full Noun Expressions, and so show both behaviors: a
> dozen chickens (*a dozen of chickens), a dozen of the chickens (*a
> dozen the chickens), a dozen of them (*a dozen them).
> (generally, these premodifiers can't co-occur with pronouns: *both
> them.)

An addendum: none of these premodifiers can use "of" when combining
with "more", "less", or "fewer":

a dozen more/less/fewer
a lot more/less/fewer
a couple more/less/fewer

Richard Fontana claimed on alt.usage.english that "a couple more" is
the *only* context where a speaker from the New York metropolitan
region would use "a couple" without "of". MWDEU also notes this
exception to the supposed "couple of" rule.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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