the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Tue Jan 22 13:23:44 UTC 2008

These all require indefinites I believe, so I think  you will find no
takers for "how sweet of the sound" (except in a strange sense not
intended here). This was apparently once a licensed construction. Any
of you HELers got info?


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       James Harbeck <jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA>
>Subject:      Re: the spread of adjective-licensed "of"
>>Both "of recent" and "how big of a" sound completely normal to me. I
>>have heard both all my life & thought nothing odd about either one.
>>Indeed, I have always assumed that "how big a" was just a shortened
>>form of the FULL form with "of." Cf. the "to" in "help him (to)."
>That's very interesting to me. I definitely learned that if you say
>"an X Y," you say "how X a Y," and only say "how X of a Y" when X is
>a word like "much." I'm not sure whether it's a case of raising the
>adjective or moving the NP to the end, but there was no question for
>me that it wasn't a dropping of the "of" (which still sounds
>"uneducated" to me); it's like "how sweet the sound," which I just
>can't imagine being shortened from "how sweet of the sound."
>>I can't believe that actual research (as opposed to the mere
>>reporting of transient impressions) will reveal anything odd or NEW
>>here. Of course, since I am merely reporting my own transient
>>impressions, maybe I am dead wrong. But isn't the burden of proof on
>>those who are made the original claims?
>I doubt it's new, either, but now I'm really wondering about the
>history and the underlying structure -- or structures, since clearly
>it's not the same for all speakers.
>James Harbeck.
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

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