I have been told by a user it's wrong to say 'I suspect this clause to be a bit sloppy English' because 'a bit' is used there attributively and that 'a bit' can only be used predicatively as in the sentence 'His English is a bit sloppy'.

On the other hand Oxford says

a bit [singular] (used as an adverb) (especially British English) rather; to some extent

and I thought I can use 'a bit' as an adverb to 'sloppy' like 'rather'. Now I'm not sure what the correct concept and usage is as to 'a bit'.

corresponding thread

  • I would say that "a bit" is a complex determinative, much the same as "a little". It's function is that of degree modifier of the adjective "sloppy" to give the adjective phrase "a bit sloppy" functioning as predicative complement of "is".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 18 at 11:42
  • @BillJ - But that doesn't explain to the OP why they can't say a bit sloppy English. Commented Jun 18 at 12:06
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    "A bit sloppy", "sloppy English", and "a bit of sloppy English" all sound ok to me.
    – bradimus
    Commented Jun 18 at 12:14
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    I suspect the English in this clause is a bit sloppy. OR I suspect this clause [in English] is a bit sloppy. Those are grammatical. a bit sloppy cannot be followed by a noun. Unless you have this: I suspect he is a bit of a sloppy fellow. Maybe I should enter this as an answer but I'm getting fed up with misguided downvotes. And fyi, AmE uses a bit + adjective quite a bit. [sigh]
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 18 at 13:38
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    Don't worry too much about the downvote or close-vote; thank you for showing the dictionary finding. The key here is "sometimes a dictionary defines a word or phrase by saying it means the same as another; but that doesn't always mean they can both fit into the same spots in sentences." Commented Jun 18 at 17:33

5 Answers 5


We can say:

This pizza is a bit hot. Give it a minute.

but we cannot say

This is a bit hot pizza.ungrammatical Give it a minute.

When we modify the adjective with "a bit" (or "a little" or "a tad") to express degree, we can not use the adjective phrase as a premodifier of the noun. We can only use it as a complement of the copula.

This car is a bit expensive, don't you think?

This is a bit expensive car. ungrammatical

P.S. "English" is a noun there, not an adjective. She speaks English noun fluently. Her English adjective sentences sound very natural.

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    This answer would be improved by directly answering the yes/no question in the title and using the OP examples to improve their understanding. Commented Jun 19 at 10:52
  • @FerventHippo I disagree. Answer it that way yourself if you like.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 19 at 10:53
  • Why do you think it's a bad idea to answer the question stated in the title? Just curious. Commented Jun 19 at 13:02
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    @FerventHippo I didn't say that it's a bad idea. I disagreed with your assertion that the answer could be improved by answering that particular yes/no question as a yes/no question using its own example.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 19 at 13:06
  • I agree with FerventHippo. This does answer the question, but indirectly, and OP will have to make out the yes/no himself rather than reading a clear and concise answer.
    – paddotk
    Commented Jun 19 at 13:57

No, it isn't correct. "Sloppy" is used as an adjective directly modifying the noun "English". When you put an adjective before a noun you're saying it is that thing (eg "a blue car"). So you can't use phrases like "a bit" or "a lot" as adverbs because they use the indefinite article which creates confusion because the article would appear to relate to the main noun. If that's the phrase you want to use then you'd have to restructure the sentence and say "I suspect the English grammar in this clause is a bit sloppy", otherwise use some other adverb like "slightly" or "somewhat".

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    There are gradations: a very sloppy hat.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 18 at 16:20
  • @Lambie I didn't say there weren't gradations - I said you can't say it that way.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jun 18 at 21:04

I add to what has been said in the other answers which have explained why a bit can't be used in that manner. There's still this question: What types of adverbs work in ADV + ADJ + NOUN constructions?

We look at a list of synonyms from several dictionaries for a bit. Some of them work:








Some don't:

a bit

kind of

to some extent

a little

to a small degree

This latter list is of multiple-word types, and I suspect that is one factor at least for these intensification adverbs.

As is always the case, there are bound to be exceptions. I don't know what they are as it's hard to go much further using this method.

  • Very good addenda. People should vote for this. You really lay it out clearly.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 20 at 14:58
  • Thanks, @Lambie. It'll be good if a set of guidelines can be started and refined along the way. Commented Jun 20 at 15:28

This is a great question! Setting aside other uses of "a bit" ("a bit of luck", "it hurts a bit"), it seems that as a general rule, it can only modify an adjective or adverb that is functioning as a predicative complement.

  • Your accent is a bit/a little/somewhat strong.
  • Your accent sounds a bit/a little/somewhat strong.
  • The actor made his character's accent a bit/a little/somewhat strong.

In all of these examples, the phrase comprised of modifier + strong is the predicative complement of the clause.

The adjective may be a comparative adjective, in which case "a lot" also works:

  • Your accent is a bit/a little/a lot/somewhat stronger now.
  • Your accent sounds a bit/a little/a lot/somewhat stronger now.
  • The actor made his character's accent a bit/a little/a lot/somewhat stronger than his own.

Except for "somewhat", these degree modifiers do not work in other parts of the clause:

  • A somewhat strong/stronger accent is necessary for the part.
  • *A bit/little strong accent is necessary for the part.
  • *A bit/lot/little stronger accent is necessary for the part.

Or, to craft an example more like the one of the original question:

  • The trick is a somewhat strong accent.
  • *The trick is a bit strong accent.

While a somewhat strong accent is a predicative complement, somewhat strong by itself is not! It is an attributive modifier of accent.

I suspect that the historical explanation for this restriction has to do with "a" being the indefinite article. (Replacing "a bit" directly for "somewhat" gives "a a bit strong accent". Or maybe it would become "an a bit strong accent". Either way, this makes no sense—the indefinite article doesn't repeat in English!)

From a corpus search I found some examples where the modified word might be considered an adverb (or something other than an adjective). Paraphrasing slightly:

  • They begin to take their personal metaphors a bit too literally.
  • The new provision reads a bit differently from the old one.
  • The technique makes the scent of perfume last a bit longer after each application.
  • Miramar, California is a bit north of San Diego.

There is another possibility, which is modifying quantity terms like "more" and "too many"—here there is no restriction to predicative complements:

  • I ate a bit too many cookies.
  • A bit more food is necessary for the party.

I thought I can use 'a bit' as an adverb to 'sloppy' like 'rather'. Now I'm not sure what the correct concept and usage is as to 'a bit'.

However "sloppy" is not a verb. Therefore you can't use "a bit" on it as an adverb. "Sloppy" is an adjective.

You could say:

I suspect this English clause is a bit sloppy

Now "a bit" is modifying the verb "to be". That is, it "is a bit (something)".

Quoting the question:

a bit [singular] (used as an adverb) (especially British English) rather; to some extent

Examples might be:

The weather is a bit mild.

The cat is a bit crazy.

Your English is a bit sloppy.

In each case the verb being modified is "to be" (present tense, in the form of the word "is").

So what you are modifying is the fact that the thing (eg. the cat) has a property (being crazy) to some extent. The modification is the extent to which it has that property, not the property itself.

  • This is nonsense from start to finish! "A bit" modifies what follows. It doesn't modify "to be". Also, adverbs (e.g. "very") modify adjectives all the time.
    – TonyK
    Commented Jun 19 at 11:57
  • @TonyK "Are you feeling cold?" ... "Yes, I am, a bit." OK, tell me what follows "a bit" in that sentence? The phrase "a bit" is modifying "to be", as in "I am a bit". Commented Jun 19 at 23:43
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    It modifies "cold", obviously. Consider: "How cold are you?" "Very!"
    – TonyK
    Commented Jun 20 at 0:14
  • What would the phrases "We are a bit" and "He has a bit" mean, if a bit modifies the verbs "be" and "have"? They're incomplete, right? Compare them with "We are tired" and "He has a headache." // The response "Yes, I am, a bit" is using ellipsis as in "Yes, we are a bit (tired)“
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 21 at 10:58

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