In my English class yesterday we looked at the following example:

Monica is such a beautiful woman.

We learned that the above sentence could also be written as:

Monica is so beautiful a woman

I am wondering what the rule for this, to me unorthodox, placement of the article before "woman" is.

  • 1
    Given your username I will assume you are Greek (sorry if you're not). The construct X is so Y a Z is the equivalent to the Greek X είναι τόσο Ψ που.
    – terdon
    Jun 21, 2013 at 14:06
  • @terdon yes I am Greek. In the example what represents Z in the Greek equivalent? I suppose "woman" but it doesn't make sense after "που".
    – Sotiris
    Jun 22, 2013 at 15:56
  • 1
    Monica is so beautiful a woman == Η Μόνικα είναι τόσο όμορφη γυναίκα. In both sentences, in order to stop there (though it is clumsy in English) you would need an exclamation mark. The only way that sentence makes sense is as an exclamation. Otherwise, in both languages you would need a qualifying cause, _Η Μόνικα (X) είναι τόσο όμορφη (Y) γυναίκα (Z) που όλοι την κοιτάνε.
    – terdon
    Jun 23, 2013 at 12:42

3 Answers 3


Such and so are degree quantifiers.
Such goes before noun phrases and so goes before adjectives and adverbs; they're alternants.


  • She is so good [that she can make anything].
  • She is so good at carpentry [that she can make anything].
  • She is so good as a carpenter [that she can make anything].
  • She is so good a carpenter [that she can make anything].

Noun phrases:

  • She is such a carpenter [that she can make anything].
  • She is such a good carpenter [that she can make anything].

Moreover, so and such comparisons usually come equipped with a that clause, to show just what the standard is for the comparison. That's their normal use.

It's also common in some idiolects to use emphasized so or such -- without a that clause -- as a general emotional intensifier, like very or extremely, but with emotional expression. This can be overdone, and is often satirized, especially when attributed to women. But this is conversational use only, not written, especially not in formal writing.

  • She's so intelligent. = She's extremely intelligent (and that impresses me).
  • He's such a cute little boy. = He's a very cute little boy (and I find that endearing).

I am pretty sure your teacher said no such thing. The second sentence in your question is not grammatical or, at the very least, clumsy. What you can say is

Monica is so beautiful a woman that everyone looks at her whenever she walks by.

The construct X is so Y a Z is almost always accompanied by another clause, usually starting with that.

Some examples:

Herman Melville, Moby Dick:

‘Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least; but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they revolve.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar:

Caesar, now be still. I killed not thee with half so good a will.

Here, the qualifying clause is implied I killed not thee with half so good a will as I now kill myself.

The Scots Magazine, Volume IX:

Since that, the Duke of Parma besieged it in 1587, and found it, even in those days, so strong a place, that in his letters to Philip II. [sic] he complained...

Edmund Burke, The Works of Edmund Burke, Volume 2:

Nothing is so strong a tie of amity between nation and nation as correspondence in laws, customs, manners, and habits of life.

  • 1
    Although I haven't had the chance of playing grammar games with a native speaker while growing up, I am under the impression that your example is not grammatically correct. As far as I know, the only correct construct is the first cited by the OP, even when the sentence is followed by another clause introduced by "that".
    – Paola
    Jun 21, 2013 at 14:30
  • +1 for Julius Caesar, my favorite among Shakespeare's works. Jun 21, 2013 at 15:07
  • 1
    @KaiserOctavius thanks, I only which I could claim to have quoted it from memory. Unfortunately, google was very significant an aid.
    – terdon
    Jun 21, 2013 at 15:09
  • 1
    1) You need to provide the 'qualifying clause' for your Melville quote. 2) In the JC quote it's not 'killed someone else' but 'now kill myself'. Jun 21, 2013 at 15:17
  • 1
    I think John Lawler covered it in his answer. He demonstrates how either case could be considered correct, whether used as a degree quantifier (with implicit or explicit that clause) or as an intensifier (informal). I don't think there's any evidence to conclude the teacher didn't bring this up. Whether is should be in ELL should be a comment. (-1 for now.) Jun 21, 2013 at 15:39

A/an [noun] indicates that the noun is a single indefinite/non-specific {noun] from among many [nouns] of that type. It is an example of a class.


I. Indicating indefiniteness.

1. Used in an indefinite noun phrase referring to something not specifically identified (and, frequently, mentioned for the first time) but treated as one of a class: one, some, any (the oneness, or indefiniteness, being implied rather than asserted).

Consider "This is a cat" - the meaning is "This is an example of a cat" .

If in your sentences, you substitute "one example of" for "a", then you have your answer:

Monica is such an example of beautiful woman.

Monica is so beautiful an example of a woman.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.