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Marx – ladies and gents – was truly a "tough guy".

Is this sentence OK? I mean the postition of the indefinite article? Why is it not placed before the word "truly" as in the sentence "he was a very tough guy"?

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The author does not mean that Marx was a truly tough guy (= a very tough guy) but that he was truly (in truth, in fact) a tough guy and not something else (which is presumably described elsewhere in the discourse—for instance, a sentimental do-gooder or an armchair theorist).

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    I think it would be at least very least "odd" to apply modifiers like truly, really, very, to the specific word tough in OP's cited context, because of the scare quotes - which to my mind imply the enclosed term should be treated as a single semantic unit (within which you can't naturally abstract one component for modification). Not that this would be apparent in speech, so essentially it's a matter of orthography. Offhand I can't think of any similar two-word collocation where this "indivisible semantic unit" principle would apply even if there weren't any scare quotes. Jul 23, 2016 at 14:39

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