3

How do the bolded sections of the sentences below function grammatically? (taken from David McCullough's John Adams)

  1. Philadelphia, the provincial capital of Pennsylvania on the western bank of the Delaware River, was a true eighteenth-century metropolis, the largest, wealthiest city in British America, and the most beautiful.

    It seems to me that "most beautiful" could be tacked onto the the string of adjectives ( the "largest, wealthiest") that precede it. Is there a name for this sort of construction, wherein the last item in a string of modifiers is pulled out and moved to the end?

  2. Distilleries and breweries were thriving. Adams found the local beer so much to his liking that he temporarily abandoned his usual hard cider.

    I'm not sure what's modifying what here. I see the main clause, "Adams found the local beer," and the subordinate clause, "that he temporarily abandoned his usual hard cider," but what's going on the middle?

  • 1
    You can't just glibly say Adams found the local beer is a "main clause". In this specific context found is equivalent to, say, thought, considered, judged, so without the adjectival component so much to his liking it's not really a "clause" at all. Structurally the example is the same as He thought the beer insipid, where it doesn't make a lot of sense to say He thought the beer is a clause. – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '16 at 17:56
  • I see that now; I'm new to grammar myself, but does this at all relate to the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs? – The_Arcadian Feb 21 '16 at 18:03
  • I don't think transitive/intransitive is relevant here. The verb find is always transitive (you can't just say He found). The point is it can be used with different meanings - so it's valid to say I hid the beer, but he found it, but it's also valid to say I liked the beer, but he found it unpalatable. And your example reflect the second of those two, in which context the adjectival component (my unpalatable, your so much to his liking) is an integral part of the clause within which it's contained. – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '16 at 18:16
3

Philadelphia...was a true eighteenth-century metropolis, the largest, wealthiest city in British America, and the most beautiful.

The phrase the largest, wealthiest city in British America is a noun group (a noun plus modifiers), and it functions as an apposition to the noun group a true eighteenth-century metropolis (it indirectly modifies it, as a kind of afterthought; it gives an additional description).

The phrase and the most beautiful is best considered elliptical: it stands for a longer phrase of which some parts are omitted. The longer phrase would be as follows:

Philadelphia...was a true eighteenth-century metropolis, the largest, wealthiest city in British America, and the most beautiful [city in British America].

So it is the short form of a longer phrase that functions as a second apposition to a true eighteenth-century metropolis.


Distilleries and breweries were thriving. Adams found the local beer so much to his liking that he temporarily abandoned his usual hard cider.

The verb find can be used with three complements: a subject (Adams), a direct object (the local beer), and an object complement (so much to his liking that he temporarily abandoned his usual hard cider). There are quite a few verbs that can have object complements, e.g. she painted the house green, I thought him quaint, I made the box larger. Object complements are somewhat similar to subject complements, in that they usually ascribe a property to or identity with the object: I found him stupid is similar to I found that he was stupid.

The subordinate clause that... is dependent on / modifies the pronominal adverb so: the word so expresses that it was to his liking to a certain degree (adverbial function), and it signals that the degree should be or will soon be known to the reader (pronominal function). When I say the wall was so tall, I might be using my hand to indicate how tall. So the word so refers to the degree or manner indicated by my hand. In your case, the degree is made clear in the subordinate clause that. It is very common to connect so with a that clause like this.

0

Leaving out irrelevant details, the example sentences are

  1. Philadelphia was the largest, wealthiest city in British America, and the most beautiful.
  2. Adams found the beer so much to his liking that he temporarily abandoned hard cider.

Both of these are picturesque comparisons, gauded up with a lot of syntax.

(1) is a superlative construction, with three superlative adjective forms:

  • the largest,
  • wealthiest, and
  • the most beautiful

The first two are put together in apposition under one the, while the phrasal superlative gets a special place at the end, with the noun phrase it modifies deleted by Conjunction Reduction.

  • It was the largest, wealthiest city, and (it was) the most beautiful (city)

So the answer to the first question is that it's an adjective phrase that's been stranded for emphasis.

(2) is an equative (actually a comparative -- he prefers one over the other, but you hafta figure that out from the text; it's not in the grammar) using the so/such .. that S construction.

So is used before adjective and adverb phrases,

  • so hot a day that S, he laughs so strangely that S,

and such before noun phrases

  • such a hot day that S, such a strange laugh that S

to indicate (in a that clause S) the degree of some scalable property (like heat or strangeness).

The idiom to find X (to be) to one's liking means 'to discover that one likes X'.
The so much .. that part refers to the degree of that liking, to be gauged from the clause following.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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