came very much in handy

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sun Nov 16 19:56:18 UTC 2008

On Nov 15, 2008, at 9:17 PM, James Harbeck wrote:

> I overheard my wife on the phone saying "Your certificate came very
> much in handy." A Google check of "came very much in handy" gets 1160
> hits. I find it quite interesting in the way it attaches the "in" to
> "handy" rather than "came" -- to my ears, a rough syntactic analog of
> morphological splits such as "a whole nother."

"come in handy" is an idiom, but many idioms can be interrupted by
modifiers.  sometimes the modifiers are understood as modifying the
idiom as a whole, but are associated syntactically with the most
significant part of the idiom; this is especially so for verb +
complement idioms where the verb contributes little semantic content
to the whole (idioms with "come", "go", "take", etc.).  the modifier
then has to be appropriate for the syntactic category of the complement.

"come in handy" can be modified by adverbials -- "really came in
handy", "very much came in handy" -- and these can move inside the
idiom so long as they are appropriate as modifiers of PPs (like "in
handy"); "came really in handy:" is attested as well as "came very
much in handy".  i think that that's all that's going on here.


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