The nice-of-you construction and its fragments

Adele E. Goldberg, Thomas Herbst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This article argues that a usage-based construction (a conventional pairing of form and function) is required to account for a certain pattern of English exemplified by e.g., it's nice of you to read this. Contemporary corpus and survey data reveal that the construction is strongly associated with certain adjectives (e.g., nice, good) over others, while diachronic data demonstrate that the construction's overall frequency has systematically waxed and waned over the past century. The construction's unique function - namely to concisely convey a judgment regarding how an action reflects on the agent of the action - enables us to predict many observations about its distribution without stipulation. These include restrictions on the interpretation of adjectives that occur in the construction, its infinitive complement, the modal verbs that may appear in it and its ability to be embedded. We further observe that certain conventional fragments of the construction evoke the semantics of the entire construction. Finally, we situate the construction within a network of related constructions, as part of a speaker's "construct-i-con".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-318
Number of pages34
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • adjective
  • cognition
  • constructionist approaches
  • fragment of nice-of-you construction


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