a + adverb + noun

loviii

Senior Member
russian
Greetings!

dickens-online.info:
By that time, Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller, perched on the outside of a stage-coach, were every succeeding minute placing a less and less distance between themselves and the good old town of Bury St. Edmunds.

In accordance with dictionaries, "less and less" is an adverbial phrase. How can it be grammatical to put an adverbial phrase between a noun and its article?

Thanks!
 
  • rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    Where?
    I think the OP sentence would sound less old-fashioned without the a. Perhaps we'd say it differently in modern English: ...were getting nearer and nearer to...
    Less and less can be an adjective: We had less and less money.
     

    loviii

    Senior Member
    russian
    Where?
    [...]
    Less and less can be an adjective: We had less and less money.
    In your example, "less" is called a determiner (that's how they usually write in dictionaries). It's used with uncountable nouns (e.g. "money"). For this reason I decided to not mention such a meaning as to my initial example because "distance" is not an uncountable noun there.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    That's right, without 'a' it would be the normal uncountable use of 'distance'. It's 'a' that makes it noticeable here. The OED has a few examples of 'less' as an adjective before a noun into the 1800s.
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    Greetings!

    dickens-online.info:
    By that time, Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller, perched on the outside of a stage-coach, were every succeeding minute placing a less and less distance between themselves and the good old town of Bury St. Edmunds.

    In accordance with dictionaries, "less and less" is an adverbial phrase. How can it be grammatical to put an adverbial phrase between a noun and its article?

    Thanks!
    No, it's not an adverbial phrase. I'd say that "less" is a comparative determinative here, where it determines the nominal "distance". The idiomatic use of "and" is found in intensifying reduplication, such as "less and less", "more and more" etc. The meaning here is "progressively less".

    The use here of the determiner "a" is literary, even archaic.
     
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