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  1. #1
    ohmyrichard is offline Member
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    typical American or typically American?

    Dear teachers,
    Please help me with a problem which has long tortured me.
    Several years ago, I read a novel by Gish Jen titled Typical American . I always think that the expression "typical American", if used as an adjectival compound, is derived from "typically American"; however, I have never been able to prove it.
    Last week, a student of mine, who is preparing for next year's graduate school entrance test of another university, asked me to help her with 31 sentences she collected from the old test papers. Every one of the sentences has one and only one error and the test taker is required to locate that error and correct it. One of the sentences goes: The grape is the smoothly skinned juicy fruit of a woody vine.When I first read the sentence, I felt at a loss as to how to correct the sentence as I did not know what the problem is. The I went to my Longman dictionary and found on p. 1346 "dark-skinned/fair-skinned/smooth-skinned" listed at the entry of "skin". Then suddenly it reminded me of that unresolved problem of "typically American"/ "typical American". It also reminded me of "new born", "widely-accepted" and "frequently-used".
    Just now I consulted Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English by Douglas Biber, et al. and read at the bottom of p. 533 that "We label as adverbs in these patterns words which are adjectival in form, though adverbial in function: new-born, free-spending." It seems that my reasoning about "typical American" being a derivative of "typically American" is justified. It seems so but I am not sure of it.
    So, my questions are, does "typical American"(used as a compound adjective) come from "typically American" and can we still use "typically American" as in "a typically American way of doing things"? Or rather, is it that people use "typical American" for the sake of convenience? Can we also say "smoothly-skinned" and "a newly born baby"? And do we always need a hyphen between the two elements involved?
    Thanks.
    Richard

  2. #2
    svartnik is offline Banned
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    Re: typical American or typically American?

    To me, 'typical American', depending on the context the two words are set, may be conceived as a non-phrase, as in 'He is a typical American', where 'American' is the head and 'typical' is an adjective that modifies the head of the NP; or as a group of adjectives, similar to 'beautiful big old' in 'beautiful big old car'.

    Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday. -- typically is an adverb that qualifies 'American', an adjective

    Thanksgiving is typically American. -- typically is an adverb that qualifies 'American', a(n) (predicate) adjective

    EDIT: Compound adjectives comprise a participle FORM, present or past. 'American' is not a form resembling to a participle --> no participial adjective or compound adjective.

    I hope my comments are helpful in some way to you.
    Last edited by svartnik; 04-Nov-2009 at 07:22.

  3. #3
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    Re: typical American or typically American?

    Think of it this way:

    Are you modifying a person or an action?

    If it's a person, well... he's just a typical American. But if it's his action... well, that's just typically American.

    She ordered twice as much food as she really needed. How typically American! (You're referring to the action.)

    She ordered twice as much food as she really needed. Typical American! (You're referring to the person.)

    Now, for other nouns, it gets more confusing. "That's a typical American reaction" or "That's a typically American reaction." It's a very subtle difference, but both can be correctly used. The first is understood to mean, "That's the reaction of a typical American." The second is understood to mean, "That's the typical reaction of an American." It's different, but only slightly so. I might also suggest that the connotation of the second sentence is ever-so-slightly more negative, but that's a subjective view.

    Also, in adjectival phrases, it's considered correct to NOT use a hyphen when the adverb ends in -ly, such as "He wore a finely tailored suit." (Chicago Manual of Style)

    As for another of your questions, no, we would never say such things as "smoothly-skinned" or "newly born." We would use "smooth-skinned" and the compound word "newborn," which can act as a noun or an adjective. Neither of these would be used to modify an action, only a thing. Therefore, the first part of the adjectival phrase must be an adjective.

    This is an understandably confusing topic, since some words like fresh, are often used, misused, overused, and abused in everyday English. Is a sign proclaiming "Fresh-baked Bread on Sale!" correct, or should it be "Freshly Baked Bread"?

    When things like this come up with my students and they want to know the reason for some things... well, sometimes there are valid reasons, but sometimes there aren't, so I just tell them to smile and accept it, and put it in the "crazy English" file.
    Last edited by chadley25; 04-Nov-2009 at 10:27.

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    Re: typical American or typically American?

    chadley25

  5. #5
    ohmyrichard is offline Member
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    Re: typical American or typically American?

    [QUOTE=chadley25;531092]Now, for other nouns, it gets more confusing. "That's a typical American reaction" or "That's a typically American reaction." It's a very subtle difference, but both can be correctly used. The first is understood to mean, "That's the reaction of a typical American." The second is understood to mean, "That's the typical reaction of an American." It's different, but only slightly so. I might also suggest that the connotation of the second sentence is ever-so-slightly more negative, but that's a subjective view.

    [QUOTE]
    Thank you very much for your great explanation.

    I do appreciate your smile strategy concerning how to learn English. I thought that there would be a rule for expressions under discussion; now I know there is none.

    As for "a typical American reaction" Vs "a typically American reaction", I get the impression from my reading that many native speakers of English simply use "a typical American+ noun" to mean "a typically American + noun" and this becomes a tendency. But I am not sure of my observation.

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