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I do not understand some of usages.

  • It's more of a sanity check than anything.

  • even more of a hack

  • I'd argue that a course in algorithm design would be of more utility in understanding how most efficient inference schemes boil down.

Why should we use of the above examples? Especially, the last one is the most complex example for me. If I remove of from the first sentence, the sentence will be awkward, I feel it, but for the last one, I am totally speechless.

By the way,

Is it legitimate to say:

  • It's more like a sanity check than anything?
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In your first example, I'd say "of", "like", and nothing are all valid and sound OK. Your second example, "of", and "like". Maybe nothing, but less likely. Your third example strikes me as a different use. I can't explain any of these enough to answer, but I hope my view can be of some help in some way –  Jim Feb 7 '12 at 4:17
    
Thank you, Jim :) –  Thorn Feb 7 '12 at 10:03
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your first two examples are a special use of of that's not readily explained by reference to its other uses. In each of them, the of is optional ("more of a sanity check" = "more a sanity check"; "more of a hack" = "more a hack"), and serves to introduce a singular countable predicate noun that's modified by more. The same happens with much ("it's not much of a problem"), less ("Would you think me less of a man?"), and a few other adverbs of quantity. It doesn't generally happen with non-count nouns, nor with plural nouns; *"they're more of sanity checks than anything" and *"there's not much of reason" are both ungrammatical, or at least, very awkward. Even with singular count nouns, I think this use of of may be specific to certain dialects; I (an American) find it completely normal, but I've heard Britons describe it as a strange Americanism.

Your third example is different; it's one of the ordinary uses of of, where it links together two nouns. The core of the sentence is, "A course would be of utility", which means "A course would be useful."

"It's more like a sanity check than anything" is grammatically correct, but would not have quite the same meaning. If you wanted to rephrase it, I think the safest rephrasing would be, "It's a sanity check more than anything."

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haha - I've just had cause to write "much of a muchness" in a comment elsewhere. If I'm not mistaken, technically speaking that's another potentially redundant "of", but I surely wouldn't want to dispense with it there! –  FumbleFingers Feb 7 '12 at 4:47
    
Thank you. Another question comes up in my mind: "A course would be of utility" "A course would be of a utility" a is redundant or grammatically incorrect? The core example is this: "A course would be of more utility" Can I write down like this?: "A course would be of more of utility" –  Thorn Feb 7 '12 at 10:12
    
@Thorn: Utility, in its sense of "usefulness", is mostly non-count, so "of a utility" is awkward at best. And "of more of utility" does not work, because that sense of *of requires a singular countable predicate noun, and in that example, utility is neither countable nor a predicate noun. –  ruakh Feb 7 '12 at 12:38
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of here is neither redundant nor much different from its conventional use. I would suggest you try seeing an ellipsis in the sentences with [in the nature] as the omitted phrase:

It's more (in the nature) of a sanity check than anything.
even more (in the nature) of a hack

[in the nature] of is not much different from like that you correctly, though not accurately guessed.

In last instance, it is the phrase be of and not the standalone of:
I'd argue that a course in algorithm design would be of more utility in understanding how most efficient inference schemes boil down.

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+1 for in the nature idea. Thank you. –  Thorn Feb 7 '12 at 10:08
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