"Of" can be used to describe the relationship between two close things, one thing being kind of an explanatory element. And gerund is frequently used. For example:

The idea of getting into the cave unnerved me.

The test of enduring heat as long as I can resulted in some major burns.

But if I apply this principle to certain sentences....

The irresponsibility of leaving the trash behind angered his boss.

The thoughtlessness of running into a ghost house resulted in his death.

This sounds stretched and kind of unnatural... But I'm not a native speaker, so I thought it better to ask you guys. Are they grammatically wrong? And if yes, why is that? And if no, is it possible to use this characteristic of "of" with every other nouns?

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    All of the subject noun phrases in your example sentences require a definite article: The idea, the test, etc. In the second sentence, why is it "as long as I can" if I is not otherwise mentioned? In the third sentence, trash is a mass noun and has to be singular. In the fourth, running into a ghost house is a strange verb phrase; it seems to refer to a Hallowe'en traffic accident. Oct 22, 2015 at 1:39
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    Does the second pair sound ungrammatical? Not to me (AmE), at least no less grammatical than the first pair. Can you use it with every other noun? Well, there is what is grammatical and what is customary. Rearranging the sentences into more conversational English: "I hate the irresponsibility of dog owners who don't pick up after their pets", "His death in the ghost house was the result of thoughtlessess." Oct 22, 2015 at 1:40
  • As for the question itself, of is the most general relator possible in English. The possessive constructions can refer to any relationship whatsoever between noun phrases, including the relationship between a noun phrase and its complement. Oct 22, 2015 at 1:42
  • @John Lawler In the sentences above, is the complement gerund phrase or single word noun? It's quiet confusing for me.
    – maxmad
    Oct 22, 2015 at 1:45
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    Sorry, maxmad, but the clear reason those examples seem "stretched and kind of unnatural" is that they are… How much would you mind finding some real examples? Apr 27, 2018 at 21:17

1 Answer 1


The part after "of" in your examples is not a mere specification, it's a subordinate clause which determines the subject of the main clause.

I would call them declarative sentences, but I see that Otto Jespersen calls them content clauses. It's irrelevant that in your examples the declarative is a noun phrase (with an indefinite verb), while that followed by a definite verb is more common. Perhaps some transformations can show this better.

Thinking that I would go into the cave unnerved me.

Can become:

The thought of going into the cave unnerved me.

And in the last two sentences you could do without the noun which is nominally the subject of the main sentence:

The thoughtlessness of running into a ghost house resulted in his death.

could just be

Running into a ghost house resulted in his death.

The term "content clause" ties well with this example: it's not the mere thinking that killed him, but the content of his (not) thinking, i.e. the act of running into the house (without thinking).

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