I've seen contradictory answers to this question. Do any of the following how-sentences with resultative adjectives sound remotely fine to you native speakers? Or are they all bad? Is there a cline of acceptability? I'm asking this because the word-for-word translations in my native language are OK.

(1) John wiped the table clean --> How clean did John wipe the table?

(2) John kicked the door open --> How open did John kick the door?

(3) John bleached the undies white --> How white did John bleach the undies?

(4) John loaded the truck full --> How full did John load the truck?

(5) John drank the glass empty --> How empty did John drink the glass?

  • What is the meaning of the arrows? What is the relationship you have in mind? There doesn't seem to be any except the use of the same terms.
    – LPH
    Jul 10 at 20:38
  • A different analysis of the problem: The follow-up to bleaching is How much lighter? To loading, To what degree did he load it? Not How full or How loaded was John? Jul 10 at 21:40
  • 1
    All of the above except for How open did John kick the door? are possible (though I can’t think of any occasions under which they would be uttered). Kick open is a phrasal verb. In these particular examples, you could say John kicked open the door, but you couldn’t say John wiped clean the table. Jul 11 at 2:24
  • @TinfoilHat I've seen the exact opposite claim in print: i.imgur.com/0HmHi86.jpg
    – Zoltan
    Jul 11 at 2:45

2 Answers 2


I think the answer will depend on the actual verb and whether the meaning of the phrase admits degree.

How black-and-blue did he beat him? ok

How silly did they slap him? maybe

How empty did he drink the glass? not ok

How clean did Jack Sprat and his wife lick the platter? maybe

How open did he kick the door? not ok

How in did he kick the door? not ok

How up did he top the glass? not ok

How out did the catcher throw the base-runner?maybe

The ones marked "not ok" are not absolutely ungrammatical but neither are they really sensible. Clean is clean and empty is empty unless you're being a wiseguy (was there a molecule of fat left on Jack's platter?) or doubting the assertion. "Open" means "no longer locked shut" in that particular locution, not "ajar" nor "partway open", so you can't really ask "how open?" You couldn't really ask "How in did he kick the door?" for the same reason. Black-and-blue is a matter of degree, maybe also silly. out in the baseball example might admit degree: was the runner out by a mile?

  • Perhaps you should cite some authorities, becaue I think that many people would dispute some of your claims. (For example, "clean is clean" suggests that it's imposssible for one platter to be cleaner than another; that doesn't seem right to me.) Jul 10 at 21:06
  • "How black-and-blue did he beat him?", "How silly did they slap him?": you don't say that.
    – LPH
    Jul 10 at 21:08
  • @MarcInManhattan I wrote "I think". I'm offering an opinion. There is no authority on such questions, which ask native speakers to give their sense of things. I'm a native speaker, studied English in college and for 5 years in graduate school. Jul 10 at 21:13
  • @LPH: I'm saying you might be able to get away with asking the question in that manner when degree is involved. OP wanted to know if there was a "cline". I think yes, based on whether the preposition complement admits degree in that particular usage. Jul 10 at 21:14
  • Sherlock Holmes: Watson, consider. How clean did Jack Sprat and his wife lick the platter? (hybrid wiseguy/doubt scenario). Jul 10 at 21:19

Yes, of course… it's possible to construct a question out of anything at all, even including, obscurely, nothing more than the word 'A'.

From your own examples, tone alone can make 'John wiped the table clean?' a question.

  • True, but that'll hardly make a remark in a grammar, and much less an article.
    – LPH
    Jul 10 at 22:16
  • Really? Can you say what 'hardly make a remark in a grammar, and much less an article' might mean, please? I'd guess your 'grammar' was the old-fashioned term for 'text book dealing with grammar' but if that was so, how could 'an article' be comparable? Jul 12 at 22:33
  • In all grammars I have seen, the subject of questions is taken up without mentioning that given any lexical item a question can be written including that item as a word ; you can even push further this sort of ontological considerations and say that an indefinite number of questions can be asked about any such item; this pertains to a preliminary philosophical aspect of the subject and not really grammar, but, of course, it can be made to figure in a grammatical discussion, a grammar ; it is not out of place there. However, usually, these facts are taken for granted.
    – LPH
    Jul 13 at 4:27
  • More than before, will you please define 'a grammar'? I guess it means 'a text-book of grammar' but that's a guess. I haven't read of 'a grammar' written in several centuries… What might I be missing? Could you look again at your last Post, at least, and consider whether it really means what you hoped it might? Can you re-phrase, for instance, 'In all grammars I have seen, the subject of questions is taken up without mentioning that given any lexical item a question can be written including that item as a word…'? As it stands, that might more likely have come from an AI. Jul 14 at 20:14
  • You will find this term used in the title of numerous books of recent origin (take a look at the first 150 or so elements in this page "A Grammar of the Philadelphia Dialect", for instance. No, that comes from my experience, entirely.
    – LPH
    Jul 14 at 20:23

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