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Example: John is too good a person to do something like that.

If you can say John is "a very good person to do something like that", then why not "a too good person to do something like that?"

Why does "too good" have to come before the determiner in this kind of construction? And parenthetically, is there a term for this particular syntax?

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    It's actually "John is too good of a person..." but the of is frequently omitted. – Kristina Lopez Sep 15 '15 at 22:07
  • You might find this helpful: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/22346/… – vstrong Sep 15 '15 at 22:10
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    Too is a negative quantifier and requires an infinitive to define what's being negated; e.g, He's too poor to buy a ticket means 'He is so poor that he doesn't have enough money for a ticket'. So *a too good person, if it were grammatical, would mean someone who is so good that something is not possible (whatever that might be). – John Lawler Sep 15 '15 at 22:23
  • English is full of idioms which seem illogical. Perhaps it is the result of the way the language has developed, a bit like the British built environment. But too convoluted a process it would be now to revise everything so that all roads ran straight, and the cities were more ergonomically sized and located. . – WS2 Sep 15 '15 at 22:24
  • @JohnLawler I think perhaps a too nice person does exist - and they are different to too nice a person. Occasionally someone will say - I don't trust that guy, he seems 'too nice' to me - he is a too nice person, as opposed to *too nice a person to...'. – WS2 Sep 15 '15 at 22:32
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Why does "too good" have to come before the determiner in this kind of construction? And parenthetically, is there a term for this particular syntax?

I can't really answer the 'why' question, because it's simply the way English works. Somehow, English has this construction, and grammarians use the term 'predeterminer' or 'predeterminer modifier' to describe such adjectival phrases as 'too good' in your example, apparently because they come before determiners (the indefinite article a).

Of course, there are many different types of predeterminers as well, as in:

John is such a good person.

But the kinds of adjectival phrases in question are limited to adjectival phrases having the construction starting with a small number of degree modifiers such as: too, as, so, how, this, that, etc. As long as adjectival phrases start with one of these degree modifiers and are followed by a, they can be predeterminers.

John is as good a person as Jane.

John is so good a person that he can't do something like that.

John is as good a person as Jane.

How good a person is John?

John is this good a person.

John is that good a person.

Since they're predeterminers, you need the indefinite article a. Hence, you can't predetermine a plural noun or a non-count noun.

*They're too good people to do something like that.

*This is as good coffee as that.

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  • “They’re too good people to do that” doesn’t strike me as impossible. It does sort of break down a little if I think about it too much, but at first blush it seems fairly natural. Now adding in that strange, pleonastic of that some people use in these constructions, however – that yields an unquestionably impossible construction to me (“*They’re too good of people to do that”). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 20 '19 at 19:13

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