Recently, when writing an email, I used the following phrase:

'I hope this does not cause too big of an issue'

However, in their response, the recipient (an English teacher) said that he was 'not too sure about the grammar of "too big of an issue"' (with no further comment). However, this site seems to suggest otherwise. What could he have possibly picked out as incorrect in my usage of the phrase, and is it really significant enough of an issue to remark on in a response?

This question is not a duplicate because I'm asking about whether the phrase itself is correct, not the etymology of it. Further, it's considering the whole phrase (e.g can an issue be 'big', or should it be 'significant'?), and not just that one part.

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  • Note that the general structure "too [adjective] of a/an" has a similar register, regardless of whether the adjective is good or big. This answer in the other question it therefore entirely relevant. – Chappo May 22 at 12:04
  • This Google Ngram Viewer shows that adding "of" to the expression was almost non-existent until about 40 years ago, and not using "of" is about 15 times more common even now. If you toggle between AmE and BrE, it's clear that most of the "of" usage is American. – Chappo May 22 at 12:11

Zwicky, in Exceptional Degree Markers, describes the

too big of a dog

expression as being confined to [some] American dialects (p 113; see also footnotes). He seems to criticise the usage, saying that 'Clearly, of is now something more than a mere preposition. It's a virus.' He links to Abney (who claims it is dialectic) and Radford (who comments

'Abney (1987: 324) notes that in non-standard forms of English we find structures such as the following: (37)

a. too big of a house b. as nice of a man c. how long of a board'

), and mentions some 'mildly alarmed non-linguists'.

In Language Log: Bundling, he gives the following examples of and comments on 'intrusive of':

On to "intrusive" of. Here, many commenters bundle P + of

(in alongside/inside/off/out/outside of)

together the of that appears in one variant of exceptional degree modification (the much-reviled too big of a dog as an alternative to too big a dog), but the two phenomena have nothing to do with one another beyond that of.

There's extensive discussion of the five P + of cases above in this course handout of mine [qv]. For these, there’s a separate story for each one (though some handbooks recommend against P + of in general): plain out is extremely restricted; outside of is not colloquial (except in one sense); off of is somewhat on the conversational side; etc. Off of is the combination that gets the heaviest criticism, though I don't think that on the evidence of actual use, it can be classified as non-standard — on the colloquial side, but not non-standard.

Admittedly, this is 25-30 years old, but the descriptors 'dialectic', 'non-standard', 'mildly alarming' and even 'a virus' and 'much reviled' should perhaps urge care in using this construction.

  • Not to mention a step too far, which with that particular noun is almost always phrased that way (rarely too far a step, and I doubt anyone is ever tempted to say too far of a step). But offhand I can't think of any other nouns that can be used as naturally as step in that construction. – FumbleFingers May 21 at 13:58
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    'a bridge too far' – Edwin Ashworth May 21 at 14:08
  • Thanks for setting my mind at ease. It was bugging me that I knew there was at least one ridiculously common version that I just couldn't call to mind! So common, in fact, that if we ever heard That's too far [of] a bridge everyone would agree that's either a non-idiomatic."mistake" or a deliberately facetious usage. – FumbleFingers May 21 at 14:43

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