As ADJ of NP as

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Reader JM writes:

In a situation where I want to compare my grades (for example) with someone else's, I default to saying "I have just as good of grades as she does." I don't know why I feel like the of should be there, but to me, saying "I have just as high grades as her" seems strange.  I know that I can say "I have just as high a grade as she does" but I get tripped up when the object is plural.

I'm not sure if I'm the only one who does this or what the "standard" construction might be. I've asked a few of my linguist friends and they can't figure out which construction they prefer.

First, of does occur in the singular as well as the plural forms of such constructions. Thus in COCA, of is used about 6% of the time in singular forms (where [jj] is the CLAWS part-of-speech tag for an adjective, and [nn1] is the tag for a singular common noun):

__=0 __="of"
as [jj] __ a|an [nn1] as 632 42

Unfortunately COCA's grammatical coding doesn't allow us to get an accurate overall answer to this question for the plural forms, since (empirically) about half the hits for {as [jj] [nn2] as} are things like "as central to who we are as human beings as the trunk is central to a tree" or  "has received much attention in academic as well as non-academic circles as it symbolized the tension between critical history and memory"; and most of the hits for {as [jj] of [nn2] as} are things like "as full of holes|contradictions|flowers as" or "as true of societies|siblings|individuals as".

But we can look at some individual adjectives in versions of the construction where this problem is rare or non-existent:

__=0 __="of"
as good __ a|an [nn1] as 475 11
as good __ [nn2] as 17 4
as big __ a|an [nn1] as 213 12
as big __ [nn2] as 3 1

Adding these up, we see (11+12)/(475+213+11+12) = 3% of-insertion in the singular forms, and (4+1)/(17+3+4+1) = 20% of-insertion in the plural forms.  Though the plural numbers are not huge, this is suggestive of a greater tendency towards of-insertion in the plural construction. Perhaps in the plural, the of is helpful in forestalling the natural tendency to parse adjective+noun sequences as a unit.

(I'm using "of-insertion" as a convenient term for the variation under discussion — but it would be equally plausible to call it "lack of of-deletion", or just "variable of in as adj (of) NP constructions", in advance of a convincing analysis of the syntax and semantics involved. Note also that no other determiners besides a|an seem possible…)

My unexamined intuition about the of-insertion construction was that it's mildly non-standard in both singular and plural forms. But this impression turns out to be empirically questionable at best, as such impressions often are. Thus in COCA, the five instances of {as high of a|an [nn1]} include two quotations from intellectual sources, and three uses in academic journals:

Larry King Live, 2004: "I think we have to learn carbohydrate awareness and make better choices. You know, things — there are many carbohydrates that have just as high of an impact as white flour and simple sugars, and by making better choices and teaching people that they can control the amounts of these things in their diet, and they can make better choices, choose the less refined carbohydrates, choose the, you know, whole foods and nutrient-dense vegetables."

NPR News and Notes, 2008: "I think you see the Clinton support among the party activists, and the polls show that Obama has not won over quite as high of a percentage of them as John McCain has won over Republicans who didn't vote for him in the primary."

"Dealing with the Aftermath: A Qualitative Analysis of Mental Health Social Workers' Reactions after a Client Suicide", Social Work 2006: This rate is comparable to and within the range of the 20 percent to 60 percent rate of client suicide reported by psychologists and psychiatrists (Chemtob et al., 1988; Chemtob et al., 1989; Pope &; Tabachnick, 1993), indicating social workers are at as high of a risk of experiencing a client suicide as other mental health professionals.

"Homophobic Teasing, Psychological Outcomes, and Sexual Orientation Among High School Students: What Influence Do Parents and Schools Have?", School Psychology Review 2008: One possible explanation for these findings is that LGB students are able to draw on the support of other gay and lesbian youth in the school, which may cause them to not use drugs and alcohol at as high of a rate as questioning youth and to perceive the school environment as being more supportive.

"Assessment and Students with Disabilities: Issues and Challenges with Educational Reform", Rural Special Education Quarterly 2006: NCLB proponents argue that all children, including those with disabilities, be held accountable to high outcomes and that the academic potential of students with disabilities be as high of a priority as typically developing students.

All three of the academic examples come from journals in the applied social sciences. But this (if it isn't a complete accident) may simply reflect the distribution of sources in COCA, since the first couple of pages of hits for "as high of a" in Google Scholar come from a very different mix of disciplines:

…the subpixels are at as high of a resolution as the source (in the horizontal dimension).

…tended to have as high of a cholesterol value at 15 min saponification without an antioxidant as at 60 min saponification

This image did not demonstrate as high of a hemoglobin contrast

Although xurography does not have as high of a resolution as standard lithographic techniques, …

…the dynamic ranker may abort the search when it determines that no later page will have as high of a dynamic rank as those already found.

The simplification in matching load impedance does not require the matching networks to have as high of a quality factor as when matching to a higher impedance with a prior art design

And in more general publications, we find plenty of things like these:

Heather Timmons, "The Risks of a Highflying Banker", NYT 6/22/2003: The bank can borrow money at a lower cost than most of its rivals because its debts are guaranteed by the German government, and the bank does not demand as high of a return from investments because it does not answer to shareholders.

Tara Parker-Pope, "Are Schools Really to Blame for Poor Eating?", NYT 11/10/2008: The data are the latest to suggest that schools may not play as big of a role in kids’ poor eating habits as widely believed.

David Z. Hambrick, "A Good Intelligence Test", NYT Room For Debate 12/16/2011: Large-scale meta-analyses by researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that SAT performance is as good of a predictor of overall college grade point average as it is of freshman grade point average, …

Charles Krupnik, Almost NATO: Partners and Players in Central and Eastern European Security, Rowan & Littlefield 2003: As a result, the western flank of the Eurasian region may no longer be as high of a priority and, further, the definition of the buffer system and Ukraine as a buffer state may be called into question.

Jeffrey Collins, "Bond set for SC man accused of tainting dialysis", Huffington Post 8/2/2012: Authorities asked for as high of a bond as possible, but did not give a specific amount.

Sometimes authors and/or copy editors seem to get tangled up in this construction, which might suggest some shared uncertainty about its status:

Joel D. Irish and Greg C. Nelson, Technique and Application in Dental Anthropology, Cambridge University Press 2008: The nineteenth-century children in their study, as in the twentieth-century pattern described above, had just as high of a caries rates as the adults.

And of-insertion with mass nouns and determiner-less abstract nouns is definitely not in my idiolect:

"We've played as good of hockey as anyone else in the league."
But I kept it in as good of condition as I could.
"He came up with as good of stuff as anyone who ever came into this league."
"Unfortunately, we also don't have quite as good of weather as they do in the Southeast"
"I would say he has as good of timing as I have."
"He has as good of command as anybody I've ever seen."
In the case of a tremor, head for as high of ground as possible as fast as possible …

But overall, it seems clear that the of-insertion construction is a completely normal and unproblematic variant in conversational speech, even of a formal kind, and some forms of it are used fairly widely in formal writing.

There's probably some linguistic literature about this, but I'm not enough of a syntactician to be familiar with it. Perhaps some commenter can point us to some deeper discussion, or at least tell us what name(s) the construction is known by.

Update — some relevant discussion by Arnold Zwicky (of course!), in "+of EDM on the march", 9/20/2011;  "EDM/ODM and grade marking", 1/28/2010.

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36 Comments »

  1. Andy Averill said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    But your original example of of-insertion seems like it's in a whole different category from the examples you give later on. "Just as high of an impact" sounds much less non-standard to me than "I have just as good of grades as she does." I don't think I've ever encountered that last one before.

    [(myl) I'm not sure how useful impressions of degree of non-standardness are -- sociolinguists certainly have amassed plenty of evidence that people's intuitions about how they talk are often not reliable.

    How do you feel about things like these, from the current Google News index?

    Let's back track though to what was as good of a speech as Ryan's, if not better.
    Right now, we've got probably as good of a defensive line as we've had ...
    The product will be under-processed because air is not as good of a conductor of heat as water or steam.
    While the city won't get as good of a rate, it can't afford to wait, he said.
    Some say he's as good of a linebacker as he is a running back ...

    My own impressions are unstable and seem to depend on the stylistic context. When the context is more formal and academic, the construction seems more formal and academic. When the context is more informal and conversational, the construction seems more informal and conversational.]

  2. Alan Gunn said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    I can't offhand see why, but although the "of" in most of the sentences you use as examples is optional, that in your next-to-last sentence isn't (though the sentence could be re-written to use "not syntactician enough"). Did you do that on purpose?

  3. dw said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 9:18 am

    My impression (as a UK-to-US immigrant) is that "of-insertion" is far more common in American English than in British English (at least in the standard registers).

  4. Andy Averill said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    @myl, I think it's the plural in "as good of grades" that throws me. "As good of a grade" wouldn't seem as unusual.

    [(myl) That's interesting, since the intution of JM (who asked the question originally) seems to be the opposite -- at least JM felt that the form "as good grades as" is problematic and perhaps even ungrammatical.]

  5. david said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    Although one should avoid comparing grades, how about "My grades are as good as hers (are)".

    [(myl) There are lots of ways to express the thought. The point of JM's note, and of my response, was to explore the nature of the construction.]

  6. Andy Averill said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 10:50 am

    I see where "as good of grades" gets plenty of ghits, so I guess my subjective impression was wrong after all. I wonder if it might be a regional or dialect thing?

  7. dw said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    @Andy Averill:

    I would agree with you on "as good of grades" — it's ungrammatical in my idiolect, whereas most of the other "of"s seem merely inelegant.

  8. Pflaumbaum said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    For what it's worth, count me in with those saying as good of grades sounds wrong, while as good of a grade is fine.

  9. Phil said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    Assuming I'm using the search tool correctly, the BNC has no instances of "as good of a" or "as high of a" (but plenty for "as good a" and "as high a"), which would seem to agree with dw's intuition (and mine, as a British English speaker living in the US) that this construction is much more common in the US than the UK, at least in formal registers.

  10. boris said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    I still think that the plural is the problem, and have the same intuition as JM regarding "as good [of] grades" in that neither the version with nor without the "of" sounds right to me. The singular "as X of a" sounds fine to me in many cases on the other hand, which is supported by your "as high of a caries rates" quote because for me "as X of" must be followed by an indefinite article (though I would not use it for a plural). Also, your examples sound anywhere from marginal to perfectly fine to me. I think things like "as much of a", where the "of" is required and the construction only works in the singular, are spilling over into a somewhat different class of constructions.

    [(myl) Good point, I think, about the possible influence of "as much of", "as many of", etc. But note that "as much of" takes not just singulars but noun phrases interpreted as referencing a divisible whole ("as much of the regular season as necessary", "as much of a radical as ever", "as much of a chance as anyone"); while "as many of" only works with plurals.]

  11. Ross Presser said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

    The plural construction sounds so wrong to me, that I instinctively avoid even the singular construction. I will rewrite and say "I have grades as good as hers" and "My dog is as good as hers" and avoid the "of" completely.

  12. markonsea said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

    @dw, @Phil

    As a Brit with more decades of residence in the UK than I care to admit to, I can confidently say I have NEVER heard a Brit use the construction with "of".

    It's a North American thing – possibly even a US thing.

  13. JM said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    My intuitions when I first emailed @myl is that my natural instinct is to insert the of when the NP consists of a plural or mass noun: "as tall of husbands" or "as straight of hair." "As high a grade" (singular NP) seems perfectly acceptable. I also wouldn't bother with this construction if I were writing it. It comes naturally when I speak.

    For what it's worth, I come from the Midwest.

  14. Jonathon said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

    Some usage commentators have decried "as [adj] of a [n] as" as nonstandard. For example, Garner says, "In AmE, writers sometimes err by inserting of after the adjective. But good usage rejects this." Unfortunately, he doesn't give any explanation or justification.

    [(myl) Arnold Zwicky calls the insertion of of in these constructions "a syntactic change that’s happened in my lifetime". If that's so, then it makes sense for older people (among whom both Garner and I can be numbered) to see it as an informal and non-standard innovation. But it seems that some uses of this kind, at least, have established themselves in the formal standard language.]

  15. Peter said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

    Semi-unrelated note, I see posts that start "Reader X writes…" and am curious how the Language Loggerheads receive said submissions? I see JM just commented that he emailed myl, and I can find his email address through his page on the blog which leads to his general page at Penn, but how does one go about selecting which of the authors to submit something linguistically interesting to?

  16. Arnold Zwicky said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

    For discussion of the structures involved, something of their history, and some sociolinguistic observations, see these postings of mine (with links to other stuff):

    "+of EDM in the comics", in Zippy, 12/2/10, with notes on history and sociolinguistic status, here

    "+of EDM on the march", 9/20/11, on extensions of +of EDM, here

    "Ben Cohen", 2/27/12, on a possible (though rare) British example. here

    "Innovative EDM", 4/12/12, on another extension, here

  17. Arnold Zwicky said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

    Addendum to my previous comment: in the U.S., "as Adj of a SG" is now a competing standard alternative to older, conservative "as Adj a SG", but the extension of the pattern to "as Adj of PL" is still non-standard, though apparently gaining.

  18. Rebecca said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

    Like some others here, "as good of grades" is for me much worse than "as good a grade".

    But in reading this post, the phrase "as high of aspirations as" popped into my head as something I've heard and which doesn't sound nearly as bad as the plural grades one. Googling reveals it to be not unheard of, fwiw.

  19. Tim J said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    Just adding my own experience to that of the other British people who've commented—the of leaps out at me as being American and sounds very strange indeed, in both singular and plural. Almost as if someone had taken a word at random and dropped it into the sentence to disrupt the structure. It's definitely not a BrE construction, and I don't think I've ever heard it said with anything other than an American accent.

  20. Russell said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

    I'm curious if JM/others has the same intuition for noncount nouns: have as long (of) hair as her. I'm definitely in the "neither option sounds all that great" camp. I also feel differently for different of the EDM triggers: not that good of grades, how good of grades, so good of grades (in decreasing goodness).

  21. Sarah Glover said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 1:20 am

    As a UK English speaker, this construction sounds completely wrong and very strange to me, singular or plural.

  22. Sarah said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 1:57 am

    I also believe this to be a US construction, but even if so I don't imagine it will stay that way for very long…

  23. Philip Cummings said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 3:50 am

    I have grades just as high as hers.

  24. David L said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    Headline in a WaPo story today, page A11:

    "Did they need this big of a party? GOP activists think so."

    As a Brit-American, I find that this construction clangs on my ear, but I see and hear it often enough that it's beginning to sound normal. I agree with the other commenters who say that the plural version sounds far more ungainly.

  25. Pete said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    The of forms sound wrong to me (British English NS). the singulars are a bit awkward and American sounding, and I want to remove the of, but the plurals are completely ungrammatical, and they can't be fixed by removing the of.

  26. djs said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 9:33 am

    As one of the "Garner generation" (and also from Texas), the "of" sounds wrong do me, just as it does when the speaker/writer uses "of" instead of "have" (would of/have, could of/have).

  27. Paul Kay said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    As David L's comment illustrates, this isn't just about [as ADJ of NP as], it's about any kind of compared noun phrase. Try Googling "too big of a", "how big of a", "so big of a", "that big of a", "big enough of a", and even "bigger of a" and "better of a".

  28. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

    @Jonathon: Another reasons for Garner et al. to reject this solecism innovation is that it's not constructive—you can't understand it with anything like any previous meaning of of or indeed any preposition. Also, prescriptivists tend to dislike unnecessary words (I'm not saying they're totally consistent about this), and this of is as unnecessary as a word can be. The version without it is completely comprehensible and standard, and even if the listener or reader misses other words in the sentence, the of adds nothing to comprehensibility that I can see.

    I suppose the of-less version may not be comprehensible to many Americans much longer, though.

    By the way, I have a suspicion, just based on a couple things people have said, that the of version started in California. Is anything known about that?

  29. Laura S. said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

    As another Brit, I too find big of syndrome (Allen, 1989) distinctly foreign. Between that and the genericization of off (and *shudder* off of) — especially replacing from and, bizarrely, on — I've come to the conclusion that Americans just really like the letters O and F. Maybe they were too frequent of sponsors off of Sesame Street?

  30. Andy Averill said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    Laura, I would of thought nothing in AmE would surprise you at this point.

  31. Laura S. said,

    September 1, 2012 @ 12:05 am

    @Andy Actually, since my language processing isn't all there, nearly everything in all dialects/languages surprises me at most points—it's part of what makes them so interesting.The newspapers might label them Americanisms, but I prefer to call them grey squirrels: foreign invaders with the power to make traditionalists go on wild they-must-be-exterminated rants, but which are really just more successful competitors.I certainly didn't want to add to any us/them sentiment that may be lurking over the Atlantic. Fortunately, sh/c/would of is a wonderfully uniting form that's common enough in BrE too.

  32. /df said,

    September 1, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    The writer of "… may not play as big !of! a role … as widely believed" started the sentence with "The data !are! …" suggesting that she considers 'as ADJ of NP as' on a par with the latter careful or possibly pedantic usage.

    In Britain I would only expect to hear 'as ADJ of NP as' if the speaker was affecting urban US speech (say, a wannabe gangsta as parodied in Ali G).

    Whereas, I have like so totally heard the argot of Clueless and Friends seamlessly embedded in the speech of Swansea shop-girls and Chelsea Sloanes (preppy) alike.

    But 'as much of NP[sing] as' (the leader was as much of a cretin as his deputy, say) would be normal even though 'of' would not be used in a corresponding phrase without 'as' (*the leader was much of a cretin – instead, eg, the leader was quite a cretin, or perhaps something of a cretin).

    @boris suggests that the 'as ADJ of NP as' usage has been influenced by 'as much of NP[sing] as'. To me the former seems so foreign that I wonder if it might be imported from a second language prevalent in the US, as with developments from eg Yiddish ('he doesn't know from anything')? Not that I can think of a candidate.

  33. Dan M. said,

    September 2, 2012 @ 2:23 am

    @df, to me the use of "the data are" looks very much like the result of a stodgy copyeditor. One of the four uses of 'data' in that article treats it as singular, and the working "The data are the latest" sounds badly unidiomatic to me in context; it would have to be "These data are the latest" for me. It's certainly plausible that a copyeditor would be watching for singular 'data' but not watching for this additional 'of'.

    For my own part' "as good of a grade as" is just as acceptable as "as good a grade" and "as good grades as". Some of the of-plus-plural forms are much more acceptable to me than others, and I haven't figured out what the distinction is

  34. Dan M. said,

    September 2, 2012 @ 2:44 am

    By the way, does anybody else who finds the of-plus-plural marginal find that it becomes more acceptable when you say it fast enough that the 'of' become '-a'? I can't tell if this is really the case for me or if semantic satiation (syntactic satiation?) has kicked in and the whole thing is just a muddle now.

  35. Alon Lischinsky said,

    September 6, 2012 @ 4:09 am

    @djs:

    the speaker/writer uses "of" instead of "have" (would of/have, could of/have)

    In this case, the speaker/writer is not using the preposition of at all; they are just pronouncing the verb have as /əv/, which is the form it regularly takes as a clitic. The written form ⟨of⟩ in this case is just eye-dialect to show that this pronunciation is identical to that of the preposition.

  36. Julie said,

    September 7, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

    Dan: Me too. I can easily imagine saying something like "She has just as long-a hair as I do," or "I have just as good-a books as she does." And in conversation, I wouldn't notice that construction at all.

    If I were speaking slowly and precisely enough to actually say "of", I'd be speaking deliberately enough to rephrase the sentence, just as I would when writing. But I'm sure I've been saying things like that for as long as I've been able to talk. (I'm 52 and a native of northern California.)

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