As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families. "I'm half-and-half," said Seamus. "Me dad's a Muggle. Mom didn't tell him she was a witch 'til after they were married. Bit of a nasty shock for him."
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Are both, bit of and a bit of, used synonymously or is the former one wrong?

  • 3
    It's spoken English, part of the dialogue. It's what some people say, so, yes, it can be used because it is used. It's natural spoken English. Whether it's right or wrong is the wrong question in this context. – user264 May 12 '13 at 4:01

This is an example of Conversational Deletion, which I'm familiar with largely through John Lawler's explanations on ELU: here, for instance, and here. You can search ELU for more.

The basic idea is that in spoken English, people ordinarily chop unnecessary bits off the front of a sentence: the pieces that are entirely superfluous in conversation, because hearers can supply them from context. In your example, for instance, the bracketed words are deleted:

[It was a] bit of a nasty shock for him.

This doesn't work so well in written English, where sentences must be conventionally complete. But modern playwrights have employed it to extraordinary effect, looking to the actors to provide the depth of internal and external context which is deliberately omitted from the printed page. Reading Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard and especially the early works of Harold Pinter will teach you far more about the natural construction and rhythm of spoken English (not to mention its unexpected capacity for lyric expressiveness) than a lifetime of listening to BBC broadcasts.

  • Thank you for introducing those names. I’ve not learned English in due course like in a University, and there’s none around me who use the language, so I’m very happy when somebody tells me about the information. I wrote the names on an English drama collection of Shaw, O’Nell, Williams, and Shaffer. – Listenever May 13 '13 at 23:45
  • At first, I listened to English dramas of Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’nell etc, purchasing the audios from Audible.com. But I was not good enough to understand them by listening, so I turned into the BBC’s audios that have VERY SHORT script. And after the broadcast cancel them, I went into the Aussie ABC’s VERY SHORT scripts. For the Government and the broadcast think Foreign Education Industry is a good monetary source for their country, they keep the kind of script, even though BBC reduces it for the money. – Listenever May 14 '13 at 0:42
  • Recently I try again to listen to BBC’s ‘The Archers.’ In the book of Who’s Who for it has this words by Vanessa Whitburn, the editor, “Yes, all human life is here.” Because of this, I want to listen to it, but its’ not easy to catch. My main English goal is to understand BBC’s radio dramas. It’s marvelous for BBC to keep the genre, for almost every broadcast abolished all the kind dramas after TV dramas. – Listenever May 14 '13 at 0:43
  • @Listenever You will learn different aspects of English from all of these, all valuable (except maybe O'Neill, who until very late in his career was unbearably rhetorical); so keep with the ones you get the most out of. It's your English, too; play with the kids you like! – StoneyB on hiatus May 14 '13 at 0:46

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