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Recently my preschooler's teacher started teaching kids that they should be "brave of" something and not "afraid of" it. Maybe it is simply because "brave of" is never used, but that syntax strikes me as off. Unfortunately, I can't quite articulate why. So, I would like to know:

  1. Is that syntax incorrect?
  2. Why is it incorrect/incorrect?

My guess is that the implication of "brave of" is that the item is the cause of bravery (thus "brave of the dark" actually means, "brave because of the dark"). Perhaps because "of" can mean "from"?

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Not afraid of the dark is the normal phrase precisely because very few people are actually braver because of the dark. – TimLymington Apr 22 '13 at 21:57
Better would be Brave against the dark. – Andrew Leach Apr 22 '13 at 22:01
I think for ELU this is just General Reference, but if it had been asked on English Language Learners there might have been more point to it. – FumbleFingers Apr 22 '13 at 22:30
@FumbleFingers If that is the case, my apologies. I had thought, perhaps, that this might have been a question of obscure syntax. – cwallenpoole Apr 23 '13 at 5:49
Another option is to use the verb instead: brave the dark. This seems close to the teacher's intended meaning. – Justin Apr 23 '13 at 14:14

The two words are used very differently.

  • You are afraid of something.
  • You are brave. (Possibly despite something)

So the teacher is incorrect - you can't just be brave of something.

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Is it just a matter of common use? Or is there a grammatical rule that I am unaware of? – cwallenpoole Apr 23 '13 at 5:47
At ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/syntax-textbook/ch5.html (example 62 ff) is a treatment of 'adjective phrases' . The term 'transitive adjective' may also be used, but is ambiguous (see languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3096 ). At bedavaingilizce.com/prepositions/adj_pre.htm is a reasonable list of 'adjective + preposition' constructions; 'brave of' isn't listed (though neither are many accepted pairings). I'd say your preschooler's teacher is using the unnatural 'brave of' pairing in a tongue-in-cheek way. This is of dubious merit amongst people learning the basics. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 23 '13 at 8:02

Afraid of means having been caused to have (i.e. possessing) fear of. "Of" in this case means "resulting from," with the full implication that the entity feared is also the causative agent of the fear. In other words, if we say George is afraid of ghosts, then we are essentially saying that ghosts made George afraid of them.

Thus we can see that "brave of" would not be syntactically equivalent. Brave does not mean having been caused to have bravery. It means "bold; possessing courage; unafraid." This is not a result of the effect of any outside agency. A ghost cannot make George brave. So I find "brave of" to be grammatically invalid.

Alternatively, I have heard the usage "brave about," as in "George is rather brave about doing things most people wouldn't venture to do." And I believe "about" could be used in place of the "of" suggested in the OP; for example, I think you could say, "George is brave about ghosts," although generally I think people are more comfortable saying "brave about" an action, such as, "brave about going into a haunted house," or "brave about" some generalization, such as "brave about anything that has to do with ghosts." Another way of putting it would be "brave when it comes to searching for ghosts." These are just a few examples; there are more.

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