The Grammarphobia Blog

A big deal breaker

(An updated post on this subject appeared on Jan. 21, 2014)

Q: I’m bothered when I hear young people use the expression “not that big of a deal.” My experience is that the word “of” is unnecessary in this expression and similar ones. Am I wrong?

A: No, you’re right to be bothered. The expression is unnecessarily redundant. The unneeded “of” is not an intensifier here and adds no particular emphasis or color.

The accepted phrase is “not that big a deal.” (Similar usages would be “not that bad a storm,” “not too old an athlete,” “not so evil an empire,” and “not so good a movie.”)

In expressions like these, where an adjective is being used to describe a noun, the “of” isn’t needed. Articles in the journal American Speech have referred to this usage as the “big of” syndrome.

Perhaps the confusion arises because of phrases like “a hell of a storm” and “a whale of a good time” and “a monster of a party.”

In expressions like those, where a noun is being used to describe another noun, the “of” is required. (Technically, the two nouns are in apposition, a grammatical construction where one noun is the explanatory equivalent of the other.)

Interestingly, the expression “not that big of a deal” is becoming a big deal. I just googled it and got 307,000 hits.

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