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In his 1991 book, historian J.B. Russel writes:

with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person ... believed that the earth was flat

Should extraordinary be an adverb, or could this sentence be interpreted as if there are few exceptions, and those are extraordinary?

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

This seems like an error to me: it should either be

With extraordinarily few exceptions...

or, with the alternative interpretation that you suggest (that those exceptions that there are are extraordinary):

With few, extraordinary, exceptions...

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Yes, it could be a typo on the part of the author or publisher, or it could be deliberate use of an adjective where an adverb should go. But don't forget that few can be a pronoun as well as an adjective:

Few would argue that the world is flat.

In this sentence few is definitely functioning as a pronoun.

It could be in this sense that the author is consciously or unconsciously using it. Which leads me to believe that this may not be an error but a stylistic choice. I also think it could mean what you think it means in your second interpretation: there are few exceptions and they are extraordinary.

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Are you sure few is functioning as a pronoun/noun here? I agree it definitely does in your example, but in the question I'm having a hard time making it into a noun because however I parse it I always seem to end up with "exceptions" left over... the best I can do to make this sentence grammatical for me is to assume he's using extraordinary as an adverb in a similar way to how some people use mighty as in "there were mighty few...". – psmears Mar 27 '11 at 17:30
Why would he deliberately use an adjective instead of an adverb? – user4727 Apr 20 '11 at 7:56

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