When can we omit the preposition "of" in such cases?

7

I'm struggling to understand when we can omit the preposition "of" in cases when we use determiners in English (distributives and quantifiers).

I mean we all know that both "half the students were absent" and "half of the students were absent" are correct as well as "all my friends are there" and "all of my friends are there".

I would like to know the rule - when can we or can't we omit the "of"?

Scrolling through various examples online I've noticed that even with "all" and "half" it doesn't always apply and sometimes we can use it with other determiners and other times - not:

  • Both of the cars were stolen. (can we omit "of"?)
  • Half of every apple on the table was bitten. (can we omit "of"?)
  • All of it was a lie. (can we omit "of"?)
  • Several of my books were printed in Canada. (can we omit "of"?)
  • Most of the people living in our town are teenagers. (can we omit "of"?)

SovereignSun

Posted 2018-01-16T10:12:48.850

Reputation: 23 612

My experience tells me that there wouldn't be any general rule for it. Maybe if you narrow it down to for example "all", there might be an answer on the possible differences between "all" and "all of". However, you got my up vote. – Cardinal – 2018-01-16T11:26:48.013

2People say "half of the students were absent". You could say "half of the student body was absent." – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-01-16T11:52:20.650

@Tᴚoɯɐuo But "half" is singular. However, I can see your point. – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T12:13:39.243

@Cardinal I took that as a challenge. Could you have a look over my answer? – wizzwizz4 – 2018-01-16T18:11:44.350

Answers

6

All of the cars were stolen.

Both of the cars were stolen.

Half of the cars were stolen.

Several of the cars were stolen.

Some of the cars were stolen.

Few of the cars were stolen.

Most of the cars were stolen.

Many of the cars were stolen.

Or this:

All cars were stolen.

All the cars were stolen.

Both cars were stolen.

Both the cars were stolen.

Half cars were stolen.no

Half the cars were stolen.ok

Several the cars were stolen. no

Several cars were stolen.

Some the cars were stolen. no

Some cars where stolen.

Few the cars were stolen. no

Few cars were stolen.

Most the cars were stolen. no

Most cars were stolen.

Many the cars were stolen. no

Many cars were stolen.

{Several, some, few, most, many} do not accept another determiner. They must be used alone with the noun, or in a partitive construction with of.

Tᴚoɯɐuo

Posted 2018-01-16T10:12:48.850

Reputation: 116 610

Excuse me but "Half the cars were stolen" isn't correct? Why? – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T12:16:10.503

1I have "OK" after that one. You've misread. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-01-16T12:16:43.220

In this case we have another determiner after "half" – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T12:32:31.373

half isn't a determiner, IMO. The technical term is "wannabe determiner". :) – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-01-16T12:49:21.703

Dictionaries and grammar sources indicate that it is a distributive determiner. – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T12:52:52.150

1So what? Other sources call it a predeterminer. Which means nobody knows what to call it. I consider it a prepositioned postfactual. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-01-16T12:53:44.653

So what??? Okay, then "all" is also a predeterminer, right? "All half empty glasses are half empty." is possible. – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T12:55:40.100

half-empty is an adjective. So we have "all glasses". – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-01-16T12:56:52.953

1In "[half the cars] were stolen", "the" is determiner and "half" is pre-determiner (modifier). "Half" is called an 'external' modifier by virtue of being in construction with the noun phrase, not the nominal, which is just "cars". – BillJ – 2018-01-16T13:44:10.867

I think it's worth noting that eliminating the article changes the meaning in some cases (context-dependent, of course). "All cars were stolen" -> every car in existence was stolen, while "All the cars were stolen" -> every car in the referenced group of cars implied by the article were stolen. – alex_d – 2018-01-16T15:51:11.687

I can't quite follow what you mean where you don't write "ok" or "no". e.g. "All the cars were stolen." is fine – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2018-01-16T16:05:48.487

1

There are no hard and fast rules which would apply in all situations. In English generally, many rules have exceptions, which often makes them practically useless as rules. Anyway, I can answer the rest of your question.

Both of the cars were stolen. (can we omit "of"?) Yes, you could say "Both the cars were stolen." or "Both cars were stolen"

Half of every apple on the table was bitten. (can we omit "of"?) Yes, but I'd say this is acceptable in colloquial English - but not everyone will agree, and according to some here it's rather controversial. Better to leave the "of" in there.

All of it was a lie. (can we omit "of"?) - No, but you could say "Everything was a lie." I suppose you could say "All was a lie" but it sounds a bit archaic/literary, although it might be OK in a poem. The "it" can't remain however.

Several of my books were printed in Canada. (can we omit "of"?) No, but you could say "Several books were printed in Canada", but then if you do that, you can't put "my" in there.

Most of the people living in our town are teenagers. (can we omit "of"?) No, but if you also omit "the", then you can say "Most people living in our town are teenagers"

Billy Kerr

Posted 2018-01-16T10:12:48.850

Reputation: 886

Concerning your answer, I'm aware that omitting "of" and the article or pronoun after it is possible but I was specifically asking about omitting "of" and only "of". – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T12:50:59.007

Fortunately It is said in the question and the examples show what I mean but leaving "the" in place. – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T13:00:46.433

2"Half every apple on the table was bitten?" No. Not OK. Not colloquial. Just wrong. – EllieK – 2018-01-16T13:58:04.723

@BillyKerr -- The question is -- how colloquial do you want to get? "All it was a lie," is colloquial in AmE but it's wrong. If your colloquialisms allow for every variation then there is little purpose for this site. I see your point, however. English Language Learners. I try not to confuse learners. – EllieK – 2018-01-16T14:21:56.253

@BillyKerr: I live in the UK and "*Half every apple on the table was bitten" does not sound good to me. – psmears – 2018-01-16T15:12:23.010

@BillyKerr I live in the UK and "half every apple" makes no sense to me. – Especially Lime – 2018-01-16T15:19:10.430

@psmears well I suppose we'll just have to disagree. It's fine for me. As I said "not everyone will agree". How many times will I need to repeat what I already said in my answer? – Billy Kerr – 2018-01-16T15:24:25.647

2@BillyKerr: No need to be sarcastic! I think the problem is that you also say "It's fine here in the UK", which suggests that all/most people in the UK would be fine with it, and that the people who will not agree are from other regions... whereas, as you're finding, it's pretty controversial even in the UK. I'd suggest taking that bit out. – psmears – 2018-01-16T15:40:27.057

@psmears - OK point taken. I've edited it out. Incidentally, do you really find it that controversial, and where are you from. What accent do you have? Also, might I just say, personally I wouldn't use it. But I have heard others say that here. I've heard people say some pretty weird things in the UK come to think of it. Come to Scotland where it's even worse! Perhaps I have some Scottish bias, it wouldn't surprise me if my opinion is not shared elsewhere. – Billy Kerr – 2018-01-16T15:47:22.067

@BillyKerr: Thanks, that reads much better now :) I'd say it certainly grates a little - perhaps not enough to be remarkable on its own, but enough that I'd feel uncomfortable saying to learners "this is fine in the UK" :). – psmears – 2018-01-16T15:51:35.203

@psmears Actually, I think it needed a little more work to explain that some find this controversial. I've done that now. – Billy Kerr – 2018-01-16T15:59:49.500

@BillyKerr Those whom you heard that from were educated people? Native speakers? How can you know if it wasn't simply bad English? – SovereignSun – 2018-01-16T16:40:38.873

1

The omission of "of" when used as in your question is slang, so it's unlikely to make much sense. I'm going to try to make up some rules anyway. Please tear them down; if they're too wrong I'll improve them.


The meaning numbers below (e.g. 1.4) are referencing Wiktionary.

If the meaning is 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 (where it would change the meaning), 3.1 (where it might change the meaning), 3.2, 3.3 (where it might change the meaning), all of 4, all of 5 (especially 5.5, where its omission can cause any following indefinite article ("a" / "an") to mean "each" or "per"), all of 6, 7.2, 7.4, 8.2, 10.2 (you can't really... but it'd be interesting to see if the "exceptions" have a rule-like pattern)

Rule-like assertions:

If the meaning is 7.1, like in your question, you can omit "of" if:

  • (colloquial) The word following "of" is an article and the word preceding "of" is an indefinite pronoun in this list:
    • both
    • all
    • half
    • there are probably more...
  • The noun following the article is plural and you remove the article.

If the meaning is 8.1, 8.3 or 9.1, you can omit "of" if:

  • You reverse the two noun phrases either side of "of" and it remains grammatically correct.

If the meaning is 10.1, you can omit "of" if:

  • You convert the second noun to its adjectival form (e.g. "body" → "bodied," "leg" → "legged") and put a hyphen ("-") in between.

If the meaning is 10.3, you can omit "of" if:

  • You remove the noun phrase preceding "of" (e.g. "at a speed of 40 m/s" → "at 40 m/s").
    CAVEATS:
    • This removes information.
    • This can be confused with 8.3 (e.g. "at the speed of sound").

You can always remove it without changing anything else if the meaning is:

  • 7.3

Conclusions:

  • There are no complete rules about that can be described using English itself.
  • English is horrible. What were we thinking?!

wizzwizz4

Posted 2018-01-16T10:12:48.850

Reputation: 348

0

The general rule is actually simple. If you strike of, the noun in the prepositional phrase becomes the sentence noun and the old noun becomes an adjective. So the rule is when the original subject noun can convert to an adjective.

Joshua

Posted 2018-01-16T10:12:48.850

Reputation: 158