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Buck's English: How good a grammarian are you?

Buck’s English: How good a grammarian are you?
By Gene Owens Published: June 8, 2014
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Judy Sing, of Macomb, has been wondering about the common habit of sneaking “of a” between an adjective and its noun, as in “Sherman Grant is not that good of a driver.”

It depends on whom you ask, Judy. Most people in Sagebrush County will vouch for Sherman’s ineptitude as a driver, but many will point out that it’s hard to be a Dale Jr. when you’re driving a Yugo.

The question is whether it’s proper to say “that good of a driver.”

Buck is more inclined to say “that good a driver,” which is what Judy would say. One could also say “that good AS a driver.” But the debate is still going over the practice of using “of” in the expression.

“What we have here is a fairly recent American idiom,” observes Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. An idiom is an expression that doesn’t make much sense literally but has been imbued with a meaning of its own in popular usage.

“That big of ...” and similar expressions have not quite achieved a status exalted enough to give it a place in literary writing. Webster’s says it’s good enough to be used without reproof in spoken English, but “You will not want to use it much in writing, except of a personal kind.” So, maybe the safest way of putting it is “Sherman Grant’s driving is not that good.”

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