Shoo, 'Of,' Don't Bother Me!

By Rob Kyff

November 6, 2019 3 min read

The seemingly harmless preposition "of" is the fly in the ointment of good writing. This pesky pest can pollute your prose in several devious ways:

1. Off of — Avoid using "of" following "off," e.g., "The cat jumped off of the table." Sure, Mick Jagger warned, "Hey, you, get off of my cloud," but "off of" is redundant. The rolling stone "off" should gather no "of."

2. Of a — Avoid inserting "of" before a noun, e.g., "It's not that big (of) a deal," "You paid too high (of) a price." True, this "of a" construction is common in speech, perhaps because it separates the adjective from the noun with two prefatory beats instead of one (BIG of a DEAL). But you should avoid it in formal writing.

3. Of-erkill — Overusing "of" creates wordy sentences, e.g., "The high numbers of voters in most of the precincts reflect the presence of the concerted efforts of party volunteers." Yikes! Better: "The concerted efforts of party volunteers produced a high voter turnout in most precincts."

4. Outside of — When the adverb "outside" refers to a physical location, following it with "of" is redundant, e.g., "Jillian lives outside of Denver"; "Most of our clients live outside of the U.S." In both cases, you can drop the "of" without changing the meaning.

(It's OK to use "outside of" to mean "apart from" or "aside from," e.g., "Outside of the cost, a mission to Mars is a fine project" — but "apart from" or "aside from" is clearer than "outside of.")

5. Dating of — There's no need for "of" when you're rendering a month and year ("November 2019," not "November of 2019"). By the way, no comma is needed between the month and the year (not "November, 2019"). And, yes, The New Yorker magazine, well known for its quirky style choices, does use a comma after the month.

6. "Of" for "have" — Needless to say, you should pinky promise to never, ever use "of" for "have" ("He could of been president"). Twitter is rife with this error, e.g., "They should of just turned it back," "Any of these three would of been a better choice."

7. A couple of more things — Before you shoo every "of" away, remember to use "of" after "couple," e.g., "I have a couple of things to discuss," not "I have a couple things to discuss."

Likewise, always use "of" after "type" in constructions such as, "You and I have the same type of car," never "You and I have the same type car." If you're the type of person who retains "of" in such sentences, you're just my type.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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