(TL;DR) While reading about preposition of on OED (eg avail of, enquire of), I encountered a possible explanation: quoted below, OED claims that the postverbal of originates from the genitive case, and from Old English. Would someone please explain? Or does a better explanation exist?

How did the genitive case (which concerns nouns) affect verbs, and produce this postverbal of?
Please expose, explain, and bridge all hidden, missing semantic drifts and links.

[Optional Reading] 39. In the construction of verbs.

a. After transitive verbs, the person or thing affected (‘secondary object’) is often introduced by of (representing an original genitive).
Such are balk, cheat, defraud, disappoint, frustrate; accuse, arrest, blame, convict, indict, suspect; possess, seize (a person of); avail, bethink (oneself of);
also with verbs with non-referential it as subject, as it repents me of;
and formerly with ask, beg, beseech, thank (a person of), etc.

b. In many verbal phrases, as
to have (also get) the advantage of ; to get (also have) the better of ; also formerly in to have compassion (also mercy) of ; to have (also take) pity of ; to keep watch of , demand or do justice of (= on), have the victory of (= over).

c. After intransitive verbs. Many of these in Old English took the genitive, and are found with of in Middle and Early Modern English, but this is now rare, except where of falls in sense under one of the branches already treated; instances are
to reck, repent, rue, beware (orig. be ware) of.
Verbs of sense,  e.g. feel, smell, taste, touch (still with of in regional or colloquial use),
verbs of asking,  as ask, beseech, demand, desire, entreat,
and others,  e.g. distinguish, esteem, forget, like, seize,  formerly construed with of, now take a simple object;
some, as accept, admit, allow, approve, conceive, recollect, remember,
still have both constructions;
with others, as hope, look, thirst, wait, etc.,
of has been displaced by for or some other preposition.

  • 6
    They're the same 'of's you find anywhere else. The genitives referred to in a. and c. are cases of the objects, not the verbs. Jul 3, 2015 at 3:10
  • 4
    It's saying that the genitive case was replaced by the postverbal of, not that it evolved into it. Jul 3, 2015 at 3:43
  • Did you mean "bilk" rather than "balk"? And could you please give an example of "disappoint" or "frustrate" used with of? I don't see how these fit in the same bucket with "accuse" and "suspect". Aug 2, 2015 at 11:13
  • It seems that cheat, bilk, defraud and the like (con, swindle, etc) do not collocate with of, but rather with out of, which is quite a digferent thing. I can be swindled out of my car, but I can also get out of my car, or back my car out of my garage, or run my car out of gas. So cheat/ bilk/defraud do not seem special at all in that regard. Can anyone here guess why they were included in the quoted list? Aug 2, 2015 at 11:20
  • @BrianHitchcock I copied the quote from OED, which I just double-checked: 'balk' is what's listed, NOT 'bilk'. About the examples and your other Qs, alas, I know not how to answer because I'm confused by all this.
    – user50720
    Aug 2, 2015 at 23:44

2 Answers 2


One of those cases where knowing the name for a thing greatly aids the research. These constructions are called phrasal verbs. Unfortunately, as Wikipedia itself says, the terminology is inconsistent...

According to the "origin" section:

Prepositions and adverbs can have a literal meaning which is spatial or "orientational", and then, as happens with all words, metaphorical meanings develop that are systematic extensions from the original core meaning. Many verbs in English can interact with an adverb or a preposition, and the verb + preposition/adverb complex is readily understood when used in its literal sense.

It goes on to imply that certain collocations with these "systematic extensions" of meaning have become fixed for many verbs in English.


In order to answer your question a long linguistic research would be necessary as each case of a genitive object or genitive complement after an adjective would need special clarification.

I never looked into this problem, instinctively such constructions are not foreign to me as such genitive construction are used in German as well.

In one case I know a bit more: to accuse someone of murder. This construction was already used in Latin accusare aliquem criminis (to accuse s of a crime). I think this construction goes back to two ideas: to accuse someone + it is the accusation of murder / because of murder. These two ideas flow into one construction.

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