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I'm new to the template, so please forgive my ignorance of this community's parlance, formalities.

I'd imagine that many here have seen the construction:

"Adjective + Article + Noun," as in "so fine a person," or "that fine a person."

My question pertains to the possibility of a "Adjective + Plural Noun" construction, as in "They weren't THAT GOOD REVIEWS," or, "They weren't THAT GOOD PEOPLE." This sounds stilted at best and at worst, wrong. Do these sentences require the addition of an "Article + Singular Noun + Of" between the adjective and plural noun, as in "They weren't that good A GROUP OF people"?

Thank you to all who can shed light on the matter. I'm still a high school student and am acquiring the tools necessary to analyze problems like this one.

  • 'They were such / very / extremely / incredibly / bewitchingly ... beautiful paintings' probably fits your pattern, though I prefer the 'adjective-modifier' classification for 'such' etc here. With negative statements, the order is often changed: 'The reviews weren't that / so / too good'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '16 at 23:34
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    So and that are not adverbs. In fact, they have nothing to do with adverbs, so that your description in the title will never be found by those with the same problem. These are two different constructions. – John Lawler Aug 20 '16 at 23:56
  • @JohnLawler what about the dictionary definition from ODO in my answer that does categorize that as adverb? Not first and foremost, but listed on the bottom? – Helmar Aug 21 '16 at 0:09
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    It's a required lexical part of an idiomatic construction. POS is not a useful category for lexical items like so, such, than, etc; mostly they fall into some grammatical category like complementizer -- a marker for the construction or construction type without any particular status outside it. – John Lawler Aug 21 '16 at 2:12
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    @DavidMarlowe the title and the question are already tricky enough. It might be a good idea to create a new question for the as ... as construction. – Helmar Aug 21 '16 at 8:52
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I would agree with your judgement that *"They weren't that good reviews " and *"They weren't that good people" are both ungrammatical.

This judgment seems to be consistent with Frank Van Eynde's description of "The Big Mess Construction":

This construction, for which Berman (1974) coined the term Big Mess Construction, only ocurs in nominals with an indefinite article. It does not occur in nominals with another kind of determiner, as in (5a), nor in nominals without determiner, as in (5b).

 (5) a. * How serious some problem is it?
     b. * They are so good bargains I can’t resist buying them.

Van Eynde does refer to so as an adverb, and I would infer that he classifies that this way as well:

It is worth adding that some of the degree denoting adverbs license the addition of another dependent: so, for instance, licenses a that-clause, as in (33), and too a gapped VP[to], as in too complex a problem to solve here and now (p. 428).

However, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that another linguist used different terminology. John Lawler left a comment describing another point of view:

It's a required lexical part of an idiomatic construction. POS is not a useful category for lexical items like so, such, than, etc; mostly they fall into some grammatical category like complementizer – a marker for the construction or construction type without any particular status outside it.

On a more technical level, Van Eynde refers to "so" and like words in this construction as filling the grammatical role of "functor of the adjective." I had not encountered the term "functor" before reading this paper, and I'm not sure how commonly it is used. Just knowing the name doesn't really tell you anything important about it, though: if you read the paper, you'll see how he defines it and what he thinks is the grammatical structure of this construction.

I don't know if your example sentences might be grammatical for some speakers. This construction seems to be somewhat prone to re-interpretation, perhaps because of its odd structure. In particular, the article "a" is often preceded by "of," and sometimes "of" is used before a noun without the indefinite article. I found the Van Eynde article linked in a comment left by Russell at April 20, 2016 on the following Language Log article, "Bad of shape," which describes one innovative usage.

I also found an earlier Language Log article that describes another non-standard usage with a mass noun, "It doesn't seem like that painful of work": "Not that adjective of (a) noun"

You can find results on the web for "that good of reviews," such as the following GameFAQs thread: "I knew this game wouldn't get that good of reviews"

  • I don't think that that acts as a determiner at all. – Helmar Aug 21 '16 at 0:02
  • @Helmar: the referenced article is referring to "a" and "some" when it talks about determiners. I don't know what part of speech "that" is in this construction; I hope John Lawler or someone else who knows will elaborate on that. – herisson Aug 21 '16 at 0:04
  • Thank you very much for your thorough answers. I hastily edited the prompt to account for what seems to be a variance in the interpretation of the grammatical function of "so" and "that." As Helmar pointed out, "that" has some use as an informal adverb, and I admit to having used it in such a way. Is it wrong to say "so" functions as an adverb in the example in the prompt? – David Marlowe Aug 21 '16 at 2:01
  • @DavidMarlowe: Van Eynde calls "so" an adverb, so if you're wrong, you can at least take comfort in the fact that a linguist made the same mistake. There may be arguments for classifying "so" as belonging to another part of speech here, but if there are, I don't know what they are or what part of speech it would be classified as instead. [Edit: John Lawler just left a relevant comment beneath the question.] – herisson Aug 21 '16 at 2:14
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    The sentences need re-structuring: "They weren't THAT GOOD REVIEWS," into "Those reviews weren't that good". And "They weren't THAT GOOD PEOPLE" into "Those people weren't that good". – user191580 Aug 22 '16 at 15:58
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Well the first challenge is that that is a special kind of adverb. Otherwise adverb adjective plural noun is a pretty common combination.

Have a look at the most common adverbs and adjectives before the plural nouns reviews, tests and families.

As an adverb, 'that' is a submodifier as the dictionary tells us. As a determiner that is obviously singular and a search yields no results. Interesting enough however, there is an informal meaning of that - in the adverb category - where the word means very.

that ADVERB 1.2 informal Very

As such it is just used for emphasis and can be put almost everywhere. So the construction is certainly grammatical and you do not need to use another construction.

  • Thank you very much for your thorough answers. I hastily edited the prompt to account for what seems to be a variance in the interpretation of the grammatical function of "so" and "that." As Helmar pointed out, "that" has some use as an informal adverb, and I admit to having used it in such a way. Is it wrong to say "so" functions as an adverb in the example in the prompt? – David Marlowe Aug 21 '16 at 1:59
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You can certainly say, "Not that good a reviews."

The "a" in "Not that good a review" stands for "of a." "Of" in spoken language often gets pronounced with only the vowel sound, not the consonant, sometimes represented as "o' " or "a," since "o' " actually gets pronounced as "a" (i.e., "uh"). The article "a" in "of a" also gets pronounced the same way, leading "of a" to become "a."

a (definition 6 OF 31) preposition 1. pronunciation spelling - a reduced, unstressed form of of : cloth a gold; time a day; kinda; sorta.

The "a" in "Not that good a review" stands for "of a." So, when pluralizing, you drop the "a" that is the article and just say the "a" that is the preposition "of," so "Not that good of reviews" is written:

Not that good a reviews.

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I believe the problem you’re having is due to the fact that because your first sentence is so linguistically incorrect, the second sentence—regardless of how you word it—is also going to be incorrect.

Assuming your first sentence is just the second part of a whole sentence (it would’ve been better if you had written the whole sentence in order to have the writer’s complete train of thought), there are two linguistic mistakes which need correcting first. 1) Although most people believe good is synonymous with correct or favorable, etc., this is NOT TRUE. Words like good and bad, or right and wrong, imply a sense of morality; so the word “good” should be replaced with a word which better and more correctly expresses the writer’s thought. And 2) “. . . good a review,” should be “. . . good OF a review.”

So, a more linguistically correct version of, “. . . not that good a review,” would be, “. . . not that favorable of a review.”

Now your question becomes: “Would it be correct to write (not “can I say”) “not that favorable of reviews,” and the answer is—No. A more linguistically correct sentence would be: “the reviews were not that favorable;” or, “the reviews were not very favorable.”

I’m sorry if this has made things even-more confusing, but I can not stress more-strongly the importance of using sentences which are linguistically correct in the first place—and it is best to use complete sentences, or even the entire statement, instead of just a partial sentence when giving an example—but over the years I have found that questions such as yours usually arise due to his very problem.

I hope this helps.

NOTICE: The content of this comment is based on and according to American Standard English (formally American Broadcast English), the most correct form of English in the world today.

  • "the most correct form of English in the world today." - in your opinion. – KillingTime Oct 6 at 14:25
  • Please link to the authority licensing “not that favorable of a review”. There are no examples of "not that favorable of a" to be found on either Google Books or COCA, the Corpus of Contemporary American English. And please let us know how familiar you are with ASE (and which version of ASE; as mentioned before, there is no one agreed standardised version). – Edwin Ashworth Nov 5 at 14:29

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