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Correct use the adjective “key”

I would like to know if it is correct to use the adjective “key” predicatively. I was taught that this word is like the adjective “main,” which can only be used in the attributive position. I’ve seen sentences like “This is key to the success of the plan,” but I remember typing something similar and the word processor marked it immediately as wrong. I think both “key” and “main” are special, (irregular, if you want) adjectives (in fact, they have no comparative forms) and feel they should be treated accordingly. I’ve never seen something like “This book is main in our course.” We will normally say “This is the main book in our course.” Thank you for your help!

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That word processor is Microsoft Word, I bet. I get the same thing: I type in something like "The new strategy he had proposed was key to the success of the project" and Word flags "key" as being wrong. It's a flaw in the word processor, because the usage of "key" is correct here.

bubbha June 6, 2016, 10:34am

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1) Some adjectives are (by their very meaning) gradable, and some not. For instance it would hardly make sense to assert that seven were "more prime" than five. Or again, she is a "more born" pianist than I am. Sometimes it is just a bit illogical: this carpet is less wall-to-wall than that one. Could one say: practice is more key to success than theory. Well, I guess I would understand.
2) if one googles or ngrams "is key to", it does come up. Sometimes arguably just a journalistic shorthand for "is the key to". For example: "information sharing is key to effective ..."
3) This all harks back to the big ask: what do you mean by "right" and "wrong"; is it common usage, or possible but uncommon usage? The exact criteria will affect all answers to the original post.
"Spurs boss Harry Redknapp opted to rest many of his key players,"

jayles the unwoven March 20, 2016, 4:56pm

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Yes     No