Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is it possible to change Nouns to Adjective by adding "of" before the noun? Like:

of help = helpful => not of any help = not helpful
of interest = interesting => of a lot of interest = very interesting
of problem = problematic => of a lot of problem = very problematic
of no use = not useful => it's of no use = it's not useful
of no importance = not important => It's of no importance to me = it's not important to me

I am wondering if there is any case where this method doesn't work.

Update: Let me rephrase my question this way: Can this rule be applied to those nouns that already have a meaningful adjective? I mean, the noun book does not have any adjective, so I don't expect of book to be a meaningful adjective! My question targets only those nouns that have a known adjective.


Update 2: Some Ngram diagrams:

"not important to" vs "of no importance to"
"not useful to" vs "of no use to"
"not helpful to" vs "of no help to"
"not valuable to" vs "of no value to"
"not interesting to" vs "of no interest to"


Update 3: I just came across the following sentence in wikibooks:

Of special mention are the shift operators

I think "of special mention" here means "specially mentionable". Doesn't it?


Update 4: Yet another example I found in here:

Please post any question that you feel is of worth and the reason why.

I think "of worth" here means "worthwhile" or "worthy".


Update 5: A comment posted here:

Then two-step is not of any use to you. Two-step is for personal computers and apps that only you would use.


Update 6: Another example from here:

Assuming all the devices in your signal path are of more or less comparable quality


Update 7: Another example from a book I recently read:

Of what use is talking about interests, options, and standards if the other side has a stronger bargaining position?

share|improve this question
4  
I don't think I've ever heard "of problem" from a native speaker of English. Can you give a sentence that has this contruction? It seems very wrong to me; and may well be the case that you seek. –  user16269 Feb 10 '12 at 9:09
    
@DavidWallace Unfortunately I cannot remember where I heard this. –  Meysam Feb 10 '12 at 9:43
    
Yeah, pretty much any singular count noun will resist being turned into an adjective like this. I don't know what "of cup" would mean, for example. Body parts might turn into adverbs, as in "she was long of limb and fair of face". –  user16269 Feb 10 '12 at 9:47
1  
+1 for excellent question! Off the cuff I can't define which nouns can comfortably be preceded by "of" in this way, but I can say they're mostly/all "states of being/qualities", and the construction is much more acceptable when it's "of no/little/some/great/etc. xxx". Only some values of xxx are acceptable without a qualifying/quantifying word after "of". –  FumbleFingers Feb 10 '12 at 16:49
1  
@FumbleFingers It would be great if you could post more detailed version of your comment as an answer :) –  Meysam Feb 10 '12 at 17:05

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I believe the answer to your question hinges on whether it's a mass noun or a count noun. You generally can't use "of" to turn a count noun into an adjective phrase.

  • "of book" doesn't work because "book" is a count noun.
  • "of assistance" works because "assistance" is a mass noun.

There may be exceptions to this, but I'm sure this rule will stand you in good stead, in the vast majority of cases.

share|improve this answer

The question clearly asks about all nouns, so the answer is clearly no. There will be many exceptions to the transformation you suggest. A person of interest, for example, does not have the same (not to mention exact) meaning as an interesting person.

share|improve this answer
    
I'm intrigued. What exactly do you think is the difference between a person of interest and an interesting person? I think they mean the same. The only difference being that idiomatically, it's easier to follow the former with to me. In isolation, both versions imply "interesting to many people, including me". –  FumbleFingers Feb 11 '12 at 19:29
2  
@FumbleFingers: the context in which one would use one raather than the other is very different (therefore the meanings are different): 'an interesting person' means the person has some interesting qualities, 'a person of interest' means the person is tangentially related to a matter of concern (it is most usually used in reference to a crime) but nothing yet has been shown for a direct connection. Two very different meanings. –  Mitch Feb 11 '12 at 20:38
    
Fair enough. I stand corrected. –  FumbleFingers Feb 11 '12 at 21:28
    
@Eduardo: I've chewed this over, and incorporated an "analysis" of the distinction into my answer. You say "there will be many exceptions", so can you think of any others so clear-cut? It would be interesting to see if my rationalisation applies to other similar "transformations". –  FumbleFingers Feb 25 '12 at 13:55
    
@FumbleFingers Hi, I'm sorry for the delay, I've been a couple of days out. Regarding your question, I think a conflict of interest can also be considered another clear-cut example. I think the general rule is that you just can't guarantee that the result of any transformation will yield the exact same meaning, because you simply don't know if amongst all the possible resulting transformations you won't be hitting another idiom. Now, if you want to leave idioms aside, well, maybe the logic governing the transformation can be then considered safe and fail-proof. –  Eduardo Mar 6 '12 at 22:26

You can make an "adjective phrase" out of any or almost any noun by putting "of" in front of it, possibly including an article between the "of" and the noun, but exactly what the result means depends on context.

Usually you turn it into a possessive. "The top of the mountain" means the same as "the mountain's top"; "the creator of Stackexchange" means the same as "Stackexchange's creator"; etc.

Other times the construction has its own connotations. Several of your examples fall in this category. "A subject of interest" doesn't mean a subject belonging to "the interest" but rather "an interesting subject". "A man of importance" means "an important man". Etc. As Eduardo alludes to, "A person of interest" does not mean "an interesting person" but rather is a very specific idiom meaning "a person that the police suspect of being involved in a crime but without enough evidence that they feel justified in calling him a suspect". On the other hand, "a subject of interest to me" means "a subject that I am interested in".

By the way, several of your examples don't mean what you seem to think they mean.

"Of help" does not mean "helpful". A native speaker would not say, "This screwdriver was a tool of help" as an alternative to "This screwdriver was a helpful tool." You can say that someone or something was "a source of help", meaning that's where you got your help from, but that's not the same thing as "a helpful source", which means a resource that was of particular value. "Source of help" usually implies emotional support. Like if you said, "Sally was a source of help when I was trying to quit smoking", you most likely mean that she provided encouragment. But "Sally was a helpful source when I was trying to quit smoking" would mean that she gave you information.

A native speaker would not say, "This is a project of problem" to mean that the project is running into many difficulties. He might say "This is a problematic project", or more likely "This project has a lot of problems." I really can't think of a case where you'd say "of problem". You could say "of the problem" to mean "having to do with the problem". Like, "Here is the cause of your problem" means the same as "Here is your problem's cause."

People do occasionally say things like, "This is a book of no use" meaning the same thing as "This is a useless book", or "It was a town of no importance" meaning "It was an unimportant town". The "of X" version here is used to sound more poetic. The usage is pretty rare and should not be considered a routine substitute.

share|improve this answer
2  
I agree with everything except the last paragraph - which imho is the only bit addressing OP's underlying question. I don't think it's "poetic" to say, for example, "That's of no importance", or "This is a matter of some importance to me". I little bit "formal", maybe, and there's something odd about acceptability varying according to whether there's an interpolated "no", "some", "little", etc. between "of" and the noun which I'd like to know more about. But it seems like everyday usage to me. –  FumbleFingers Feb 10 '12 at 16:40
    
Everyday writing, for some people, maybe. I'd never say it, except in a lecture, which is essentially writing. Any phrase or construction that would only be written is already in the formal register, being slowly embalmed as it dies on living lips. –  John Lawler Feb 10 '12 at 17:15
    
@JohnLawler: Lots of people talk everyday in a formal register as a matter of course, without it having anything to do with writing. You are too dismissive of that register. –  Mitch Feb 10 '12 at 17:33
    
@Mitch: I don't think John is being "dismissive" of the formal register, but he probably knows better than us (certainly, than me) exactly what is and isn't "formal". I swing wildly between registers, both in speech and writing, and I've noticed John shows a similar tendency here (particularly in comments). Often I do it for effect/fun - but often I don't even know I'm doing, and I bet John is more likely than most to notice, because I assume that's part of his job. –  FumbleFingers Feb 11 '12 at 18:15
    
Okay, "poetic" was probably the wrong word. "More formal", perhaps. –  Jay Feb 13 '12 at 16:25

Some counts from Google Books for "of no xxx to me"...

importance 26100, value 23100, consequence 32500, benefit 5490, use 183000

This clearly shows the construction is very common, though I can't disagree with @John assertion that it's a somewhat "formal" usage. I must admit that I searched for negated forms first because I expected them to be more common; I was a bit surprised to find the counts were even higher when I searched again without "no". I even checked again restricting the search to 21st century thinking usage might have changed over time, but the pattern remains.


Addressing OP's specific (revised) question, It's irrelevant whether the "quality/property" noun qqqq has an associated adjectival form or not. Problem isn't a "quality"; it can't be used this way.

Grammatically, you can refer to "the qqqq of xxxx" for any property qqqq that xxxx has.

For example, Jean Plaidy's they talked of the cleverness of John, or Gloria Vanderbilt's The fatness of him always put me off are both grammatically fine.


However, I think many will agree those examples are somewhat unusual/florid. The best way I can think of to define which attributes qqqq are "unexceptional" in this construction is to say:

Idiomatically, use "the qqqq of xxxx" only if qqqq has xxxx has by virtue of people's opinions.

Even the somewhat "poetic" case a man / woman of substance implies in the opinion of society.

Edit: I note Eduardo's distinction between a person of interest and an interesting person. It's "interesting" (not usually "of interest") to note that the first form invariably means of interest to society's formal representatives (police, the legal system, etc.). Obviously, however we phrase it, any "interest" can only be shown by other people, but I still think this usage backs up my point.

I suggest when someone is described as interesting, this carries more of an implication that the "interestingness" is more "intrinsic" (in effect, inherently interesting to all). By contrast, using of interest strongly implies to somebody/some people, leading us to associate this construction more with people speaking on behalf of investigatory bodies, etc.

I've marked this answer "community wiki"; if anyone else can expand on it, please feel free.

share|improve this answer
    
If those example are unusual, why are they found in so many books? –  Meysam Feb 17 '12 at 6:21
    
@Meysam: Define your terms. Those usages are "unusual" in the sense that you would find many, many more written instances of "John's cleverness", or "his fatness". Or indeed, "It's unimportant / not important to me". The "of" forms are noticeably "atypical" to most native speakers if we stop and think about it long enough, but not so much so that we're always going to even notice them in the first place. –  FumbleFingers Feb 17 '12 at 17:03
    
Could you please give your opinion about Update 3 in my question? –  Meysam Feb 25 '12 at 9:39
    
@Meysam: I think "of special mention" is a peculiar idiomatic usage, not directly related to the construction we're talking about here. One could feasibly argue it's short for "of special mentionability", but I think really it's an elliptical "worthy of special mention". Even though the word "special" is in principle optional here, I think in practice you'll never find that particular construction without it. People would really notice how odd the phrasing is if they omit both "worthy" and "special". –  FumbleFingers Feb 25 '12 at 13:20
    
Any idea about Update 4? –  Meysam Mar 1 '12 at 8:38

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.