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My wife and I were discussing whether it is allowable to put an adjective in front of "of them". For instance, I could say "I want 5 cats" and "I want 5 of them". However, while it sounds perfectly normal to say "I want 5 new cats", "I want 5 new of them" doesn't roll of the tongue very smoothly.

If it is incorrect to place an adjective in front of "of them"?

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"I want 5 new of them" seems right. Sometimes adjectives can be used as nouns, e.g. the rich. –  Stan May 25 '13 at 10:17
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What about "I want 5 of them new"? Like "I want my food dead". –  Ilya Kogan May 25 '13 at 11:13
    
"It's silly of them to think otherwise." –  rhetorician May 25 '13 at 11:42
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"It is silly of them" is a completely different construction and a red herring. And "the rich" have absolutely nothing to do with anything here. –  RegDwigнt May 25 '13 at 12:13
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3 Answers

"*I want five new of them" is ungrammatical for much the same reason it is ungrammatical to say "I want five new of cats".

In "I want five new cats", cats is in the accusative case. Of, on the other hand, is the case marker for genitive. You can't take a grammatical phrase, randomly switch the case for exactly one word in it, and expect the result to still be grammatical.

The grammatical and idiomatic alternative to "*I want five new of them" is "I want five new ones". Where ones is a pronoun in the accusative case, just like the cats it is replacing.

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The main problem with the sentence "I want five new of them" is that the word "new" is an adjective. Generally, the word that comes directly before the phrase "of them" is usually a noun that is used to specify some type of quantity. For example:

  • "I want five of them."
  • "Out of the hundreds of witnesses at the crime scene, the detective wagered that several of them knew the truth."
  • "After marking her students' final exams, the teacher concluded that only half of them actually studied the correct material."
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Several is not a noun. Five and half can be, but they clearly aren't here. −1 –  RegDwigнt May 25 '13 at 12:01
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So where's the answer in this -- am I missing something? –  Kris May 25 '13 at 13:04
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Five is a quantifier, like some, few and most. When quantifiers are used to select part of a definitely specified subject (them or the cats), they require of (if you insist on talking about cases, this is the partitive, but English barely has cases any more).

So in five of them, five of is the quantifier, which can't be broken by a qualifier such as an adjective.

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