I'm happy to see that grammar is being seen as important enough to be taught in English schools ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22403731 ) again. I think. At least it might improve some people's dating prospects, according to the article.

In the above article appears:

The Idler magazine's Bad Grammar Awards recently named and shamed a letter by academics for saying that the national curriculum demanded "too much, too young" - thus confusing an adjective and an adverb.

There is a reasonable amount of evidence online that the expression is acceptable, however, and one could argue that "too much, too young" could be considered a shortened (and punchier) form of "[they are (being) expected to do] too much [(-/,) while they are still] too young".

'They married young' is quite widely used and sounds acceptable to me - of course, this expression can fairly be analysed as 'link-like verb + adjective' without having to consider young as a flat adverb.

When expressions achieve idiomatic status, of course, traditional grammar is no longer a controlling factor - by and large coordinates a preposition and an adjective.

Is the Idler's criticism justified here?

  • 2
    As you say, idioms are grammar-proof. But "That is too much [for them]; they are too young [for it]" is a reasonable expansion which shows that both halves are adjectival.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 14, 2013 at 7:51
  • In the original, technical meaning, by and large are both adverbs. May 14, 2013 at 10:19
  • Yes, and by still may be on occasion, but large certainly isn't, according to major online dictionaries. It's probably best to regard by and large as a fossilised unit nowadays - and I'm sure Idler wouldn't have kittens about using it. I'm inviting discussion here on how fossilised too much, too young has become. May 14, 2013 at 10:46
  • Is the phrase used and recognized by enough of the English language community to be considered an idiom? "Awards" like this are often given to phrases that are on their way to becoming common, in the (usually vain) hope of heading this off. However, I agree that there's nothing really ungrammatical about it.
    – Barmar
    Jun 15, 2014 at 3:16

2 Answers 2


I don't think it's justified. It looks and sounds like idiomatic English to me. Don't we have an expression that goes "Too much, too soon"? In addition to the movie, there's this song Too Much, Too Soon, this Brookings Institute report on foreign aid to Burma/Myanmar, and this Wall Street Journal article on Google Glass.

The caviler is a misguided pedant, IMHO.

  • So, do you mean that idioms are not correct English? BTW, I didn't down-vote your answer yet.
    – Fr0zenFyr
    May 14, 2013 at 9:16
  • @Fr0zenFyr: As Andrew Leach points out in his comment, & I have said many times here, idioms don't have to be grammatical to be acceptable standard English, not even in formal written English. As long as they're used correctly, they are "grammar-proof". The collocation "too much, too young" is a standard idiom in English. There's nothing ungrammatical about it. It's fine. It's good English. My answer shows that the idiom is used at all levels. The Brookings article is the highest register (formal written English), & the song is the lowest.
    – user21497
    May 14, 2013 at 9:36
  • Well, that's exactly what I too know about idioms-they don't have to be grammatically correct. when you said "I don't think it's justified. It looks and sounds like idiomatic English to me", I thought you mean otherwise.
    – Fr0zenFyr
    May 14, 2013 at 9:42
  • 3
    @Fr0zenFyr: Edwin Ashworth asked "Is the Idler's criticism justified here?" My answer was a resounding "No! I don't think it's justified....The caviler is a misguided pedant, IMHO." How could that possibly mean otherwise?
    – user21497
    May 14, 2013 at 9:45
  • 1
    There are various articles addressing 'ill-formed' or 'extragrammatical' idioms, which recognise that, with some idiomatic expressions, (some schools') recognised rules of grammar are being broken. Other schools just rewrite the(ir) rules, and yet others allow certain words to convert to otherwise proscribed word classes, to avoid the troublesome issue. Some dictionary entries are enormously long in order to be able to decompose just about every idiom; the more sensible approach is to define idioms as well as single words. May 14, 2013 at 10:54

I don't see anything "ungrammatical" about the adjectival phrase too much, too soon, which is structurally no different to similar expressions such as too little, too late...

It is too much [and it is] too soon.
It is too little [and it is] too late.

...are both perfectly normal utterances wherein the [bracketed repetition] can validly be elided.

  • The Idler position would probably be that late could equally well be considered to be an adverb in too little, too late , FF (how does one address you?). They seem to be missing the point that if balanced expressions are required, they're in trouble with 'too much' (or 'too little') anyway, as it is a compound quantifier rather than an adverb. May 14, 2013 at 20:00
  • @Edwin: I don't follow that. It seems to me It is too much is syntactically equivalent to, say, It is important. The fact that you can say It is too important, but not It is much seems irrelevant to me, as does any hair-splitting over where exactly to draw the line between adjectival and adverbial usage. May 14, 2013 at 20:25
  • Too much is being asked of them seems a more likely pre-ellipted form here. Collins labels this usage 'quantifier (actually 'determiner) used as pronoun'. Admittedly, the expression 'too much' can be used as a paraphrase of 'intolerable', when it is adjectival (or a pragmatic marker). May 15, 2013 at 22:42
  • @Edwin: As it happens, OP's citation is preceded by the national curriculum demanded..., so we know it means too much is demanded of them [by the curriculum]. But glancing through written instances of too much too young I have the distinct feeling it more often means too much is given/happens to them [when they are] too young. My point remains that it's just standard elision, and only a pedant could cavil over the fact of much/young being different "parts of speech". May 15, 2013 at 22:56

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