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grammar diagnosis: "Not that good of a term"
Topic Rating: 0 (2 votes) 
2012/04/16
3:30pm
Dan Luby
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I teach ministry to grad students and have noticed a usage creeping into spoken and written submissions lately which I want to correct.  My problem?  I don’t know what to call the problem nor how to describe its fix.

The objectionable usage I hear/read with increasing frequency is the insertion of the word “of” in comparative descriptions.  A student wrote recently for example, that “she is as good of  a preacher as anybody in the class.” I have been hearing this a lot in the last year or two.  “I’m just as smart of a student as he is.” “This is as hard of a job as I’ve ever had.” — and so on.

I want my students to leave out the “of” here but need a way to describe why it’s wrong (or at least infelicitous and ineffective), and a rule of thumb for helping them to avoid such usage in the future.

Can you help?  Is there a website I can consult?  Many thanks for any wisdom you can offer.

2012/04/16
4:02pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Hi Dan, and welcome to the forum.

I’ve also noticed that curious and incorrect use of “of” lately … actually for a few years now. The word “of” is a preposition with 20-some shades of meaning and usage. See: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/of

But it is a preposition, and thus has no business in a noun phrase. Well … there might be some exceptions. Even grad students can get pretty sloppy with the language. I’d suggest sending your students to that link, noting how it’s a superfluous term (in the contexts you cite).

There’s many other words that have also crept into overuse. “That” comes to mind. Maybe you should just tell your students to use Occam’s Razor when reviewing their written work. Tell them to ask whether the word really adds anything to the sentence, whether it’s clear without that word, and to get rid of it if doesn’t really add meaning?

I’m not a language teacher. Just a tech writer. Others may jump in with more wisdom and experience than I bring to this question.

2012/04/16
10:53pm
RobertB
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There is a difference — the ‘of’ is a way to hedge attaching the attribute to the subject.

     she is as good a preacher as anybody in the class

     she is as good of  a preacher as anybody in the class

The first sentence presupposes she is a preacher.

The 2nd allows that she may not be a preacher yet (still a student), but asserts that as far as being preacher is concerned, she is good as any.

2012/04/17
7:40am
Dick
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RobertB said:

There is a difference — the ‘of’ is a way to hedge attaching the attribute to the subject.

     she is as good a preacher as anybody in the class

     she is as good of  a preacher as anybody in the class

The first sentence presupposes she is a preacher.

The 2nd allows that she may not be a preacher yet (still a student), but asserts that as far as being preacher is concerned, she is good as any.

This explanation may be correct, or not, but in my experience this is not  people’s logic when they use this phrasing.  Also, it would not explain the other two examples given: job and student.

2012/04/17
1:52pm
Glenn
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I strongly suspect that there is widespread misunderstanding of this kind of construction. People do not see these constructions as simple transformations of:

She is a good preacher. + (as good as anybody in the class) = She is as good a preacher as anybody in the class.
I’m a smart student. + (as smart as he is) = I’m as smart a student as he is.
This is a hard job = (as hard as any[job] I’ve ever had) = This is as hard a job as any I’ve ever had.

The general misunderstanding is also very clear in (real) examples with slightly more complex adjective phrases:

How good of a looking car … ? (should be: How good looking a car …)
… too fast of an acting drug … (should be: … too fast acting a drug … )
… as good of a natured smile … (should be: … as good natured a smile … )
… that well of a dressed guy … (should be: … that well dressed a guy … )

Notwithstanding the intriguing nature of a “looking car” and an “acting drug,” I must perform the mental editing. I wonder if a discussion of beautiful, expensive drinking glasses might elicit the question “How good of a looking glass do we need?”

By the way, these are generally termed as “degree phrases” and “degree-modified adjectives.” The process of placing the adjective before the a/an is called “degree inversion.” There is another form called “negative inversion.” They are introduced often by degree words such as that, how, too, so, as.

There is mention of the “optional of” in this CUNY paper: Negative Inversion and Degree Inversion in the English DP (Note: DP is Determiner Phrase)

2012/04/17
5:35pm
Bob Bridges
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I would join in my condemnation of the redundant (and indeed meaningless) “of”, if it didn’t seem so unnecessary; seems we all agree.  But I will add that I’ve been seeing it considerably longer than a few years.  It may not have been around as long as three decades, but if not it’s pretty close.  It does seem to be getting more common, though.

2012/04/17
8:42pm
Dick
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Bob Bridges said:

I would join in my condemnation of the redundant (and indeed meaningless) “of”, if it didn’t seem so unnecessary; seems we all agree.  But I will add that I’ve been seeing it considerably longer than a few years.  It may not have been around as long as three decades, but if not it’s pretty close.  It does seem to be getting more common, though.

It was around where I lived over 50 years ago.  My friends and I spoke like this even after we were corrected, but at least then we knew it was wrong.

2012/04/17
11:53pm
RobertB
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The “degree” concept that Glenn points out is I think quite relevant to the “good of a noun” construction. Bear with me here– one application of “degree” is to allow a noun to run from zero to its maximum potential, so that, for instance, a Muslim or Buddhist person might say, “But I am as much of a Christian as I am a person of my faith,” and it will be syntactically correct and perfectly understandable too.

Now, if you dismiss “of” from “good of a noun”, then what will you do to fulfill the need to express a noun to some undefined degree, while qualifying it too, as for instance in the case of the girl who may or may not be a preacher: “She is as good of  a preacher as anybody in the class”?  You can not do it, can you, as succinctly? Because the moment you take the “of” off, she is just flat out preacher, good or bad! 

2012/04/18
7:46am
Bob Bridges
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Hmm, I have to admit it gives me pause for thought.  “I’m not as good a Christian.”  “I’m not as much of a Christian.”  “I’m not as much a Christian.”  “I’m not as good of a Christian.”  The last one sounds plainly wrong to my ear, but the other three sound fine.  Well, the second makes me look twice, but my ear thinks about it and decides it’s ok.

So is my ear deceived?  If it’s right, it seems the only difference is between “as much as ” and “as good as”.  Is that a good enough reason (is it good enough of a reason) to judge one construction flatly wrong, as I always have?

(By the way, since those examples are all in the negative, technically shouldn’t that be “so”, not “as”?  “I’m not so good a Christian as…” etc.  I was taught that A is as good as B but it’s not so good as C.)

I think I’m going to have to ponder this, and try it out with other adjectives for comparison.  I’m as right-wing a fanatic as you are.  That’s as blue of a car as I’ve ever seen.  It’s not so much a question of politics as of morality—or it’s not so much of a question of politics as of morality.

RobertB, try Glenn’s test:  What does “she’s as good of a preacher as anyone in the class” say that “she’s as good a preacher as anyone in the class” doesn’t say as well?

2012/04/19
6:22am
RobertB
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Ah, question asked after answer given! -  twice above.

Wonder maybe there is a word for that phenomenon?

2014/04/24
11:53am
kfed
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I have long wondered about the use of “of” in this context, as it has been prolific in American media for a long time. In high school English class in Australia – we’re talking 20 years ago – it was referred to as “the American superfluous of”. I’d assumed it was considered correct “American English”. I’m a bit thrilled, but bewildered, to discover it isn’t.

2014/04/24
4:01pm
Bob Bridges
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Probably depends whom you ask.  All right-thinking people agree that the superfluous “of” is wrong.  But then I define “right thinking” as “those who know that the superfluous ‘of’ is wrong”.  The ones who use it all the time no doubt think it’s perfectly ok, at least most of them.

2014/04/25
4:00am
deaconB
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Bob Bridges said
Probably depends whom you ask.  All right-thinking people agree that the superfluous “of” is wrong.  But then I define “right thinking” as “those who know that the superfluous ‘of’ is wrong”.  The ones who use it all the time no doubt think it’s perfectly ok, at least most of them.

Which means that in thinking it’s a verbal shortcut for “she’s a good (an example) of a preacher as any sjy-pilot you can name”, I’m not right-thinking.  so is my thinking wrong or is it left?

Had a minor toothache last night, keeping me awake. Got distracted by the question “How does a writer choose between cutting vegetables up and cutting up vegetables?”  I think it’s related to dutchyisms such as  “bring the cow the lane up and put it in the barn” and “outen the light.”  Truth be told, the toothache was less annoying.

2014/04/25
5:46am
tromboniator
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Glenn said

How good of a looking car … ? (should be: How good looking a car …)
… too fast of an acting drug … (should be: … too fast acting a drug … )
… as good of a natured smile … (should be: … as good natured a smile … )
… that well of a dressed guy … (should be: … that well dressed a guy … )

Back in the Paleolithic, before hyphens went extinct, we had good-looking, fast-acting, good-natured, and well-dressed, and nowhere to put a superfluous of.

RobertB said 

Now, if you dismiss “of” from “good of a noun”, then what will you do to fulfill the need to express a noun to some undefined degree, while qualifying it too, as for instance in the case of the girl who may or may not be a preacher: “She is as good of  a preacher as anybody in the class”?  You can not do it, can you, as succinctly? Because the moment you take the “of” off, she is just flat out preacher, good or bad! 

You’ve lost me. It doesn’t matter whether she is a preacher or not, whether anyone else in the class is a preacher or not, nor how good anyone is at it: she’s as good as anyone. Putting ‘of’ in there doesn’t change anything, to my understanding. Taking the ‘of’ out does not make her flat-out preacher, good or bad, because the sentence makes her “as good…as” anyone else. The context in which the sentence appears will tell you whether that’s a good thing or not. Am I missing something here?

2014/04/25
10:52am
RobertB
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Well, what if she is not a preacher at all?  The “of” allows a kind of subjunctive mood.

Here’s an example with a woman being a man:

Bardia’s attempt to treat her as a man is agony, yet also to be as much of a man as possible and share his masculine activities is the only thing that links her with him at all and, in that way, precious to her. 

If you omit the ‘of’  ?   Then she would be flat out a man, in reality.

2014/04/25
10:56am
Bob Bridges
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RobertB said 
Now, if you dismiss “of” from “good of a noun”, then what will you do to fulfill the need to express a noun to some undefined degree, while qualifying it too, as for instance in the case of the girl who may or may not be a preacher: “She is as good of  a preacher as anybody in the class”?  You cannot do it, can you, as succinctly? Because the moment you take the “of” off, she is just flat out preacher, good or bad!

tromboniator said
You’ve lost me. It doesn’t matter whether she is a preacher or not, whether anyone else in the class is a preacher or not, nor how good anyone is at it: she’s as good as anyone. Putting ‘of’ in there doesn’t change anything, to my understanding. Taking the ‘of’ out does not make her flat-out preacher, good or bad, because the sentence makes her “as good…as” anyone else. The context in which the sentence appears will tell you whether that’s a good thing or not. Am I missing something here?

I think what RobertB is saying is that “X is as good a preacher as Y” implies that both X and Y are preachers, but that “X is as good of a preacher as Y” means that Y is a preacher but X may not be—but if X were a preacher, he’d be as good a preacher as Y.

I can’t see that distinction, myself, but I think that’s what he means.

2014/04/25
2:09pm
Dick
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I think Robert’s example “yet also to be as much of a man as possible ” shows the difference in much and more.  In this type of comparison, I can not imagine using much with of  but using more or good or any of several other words with of sounds just fine.  All I can go on right now is my gut feeling but I think there is a difference.

2014/06/17
12:42am
Anna
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What additional meaning do these constructions add? Why would you say ‘Green is as becoming a color’ ( Negative Inversion and Degree Inversion in the English DP) and not just ‘Green is a becoming color’ – is there any significant difference?:)

Another example from the same article:

‘Holding all 50 states’ primary elections on the same day is as reasonable a proposal’

How does this differ from a simple form  ‘Holding all 50 states’ primary elections on the same day is a reasonable proposal‘?

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

2014/06/17
8:39am
Robert
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Hi Anna. The ‘as’ means that the statement is part of a larger discussion that involves  other things, ideas, etc. of the same kind.  If there is no such context, ‘as’ makes no sense at all.

2014/06/17
9:11am
Peano
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If your students understand diagramming (probably not likely nowadays), you can show them the problem by diagramming the sentence.

If you leave out the incorrect of, then preacher is clearly a predicate nominative and sits on the main horizontal line to the right of the subject and verb. But if you include that of, then preacher becomes the object of a prepositional phrase. Try to diagram the sentence that way and you quickly see that the prepositional phrase has nothing to modify and thus can’t be fitted into the diagram.

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