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Is it correct grammar to say "Dark of the Moon"?

Should it not be either

  • "Dark (insert word here) of the Moon" if there is some dark thing of the moon, or
  • "Darkness of the Moon" if the moon itself is the "dark" being described.

Example uses according to Wikipedia:

  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a 2011 film, third in the Transformers series
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon (video game), a video game based on the 2011 film
  • Dark of the Moon (play), a play by American playwrights William Berney and Howard Richardson
  • "Dark of the Moon" (The Unit), an episode of the television series The Unit
  • Dark of the Moon: Poems of Fantasy and the Macabre, a 1947 poetry anthology edited by August Derleth
  • Dark of the Moon, a 1968 mystery novel by John Dickson Carr
  • Dark of the Moon, a 2005 novel by John Sandford
  • Dark of the Moon, a 2009 paranormal romance novel, third in the Dark Guardian series
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  • Bear in mind that an evocative phrase like this will be taken up, kept alive and extended just to give people an excuse to use it. It was originally a precise astronomical/astrological term, back when the two were practically the same. – Tim Lymington Jul 22 '11 at 10:19
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    It's no less grammatical than "the full of the moon", which is its opposite, and appears to have been nearly as common. – Peter Shor Jul 22 '11 at 10:38
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Dark in this phrase is used as a noun in the sense of "night." Consider that if we could see the moon at this time, we would be looking at its night side. The "dark of the moon" is nighttime on the moon.

While you could say the darkness of the moon, that would imply that the moon was causing darkness, which I suppose it does during a solar eclipse.

The examples you give in your comment—"Soft of the pillow," "Hard of the rock," "White of the fence"—sound funny because soft, hard, and white are all adjectives rather than nouns, so they don't fit this pattern. It would be odd to say the pillow's soft, the rock's hard, the fence's white, because we are waiting for the noun that those words describe: the pillow's soft caress, the rock's hard surface, the fence's white picket.

More appropriate comparisons would be "The Night of the Were-Rabbit," "Dawn of the Dead," or "Dark of the Sun." These are all "grammatical" phrases. They could equally be expressed as the were-rabbit's night, the dead's dawn, the sun's dark, although they sound less nice that way.

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It's an usual expression/image, and so needs a bit more interpretation than other phrases. But there's nothing ungrammatical about it per se. If you can talk about something being "the dark", and you can talk about "the X of the moon", then it's plausible to talk about "the dark of the moon".

Consider also that part of the idea of the expression is a play on words, contrasting with e.g. "(by) the light of the moon", which would be a more common expression.

Or put another way: it's no less grammatical than "the cold of the staircase" or "the dry of the waterwheel".

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    Still a bit confused but thanks! "the dry of the waterwheel" sounds so silly I absolutely must use it as a title for some project. – Mendel Jul 22 '11 at 6:07
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    The pink of health? – Peter Shor Jul 22 '11 at 11:36
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One can see by the Google Ngram below that the phrase the full of the moon appears to have been originally more common than the dark of the moon. Before 1800, the new of the moon was much more common than the dark of the moon as the opposite of the full of the moon (although this last phrase was much more common). These expressions are idioms, and are perfectly acceptable English.

As far as grammar goes, it's not clear whether analyzing the grammar of idioms is a useful exercise—you could say that full, new, and dark are nouns, but only when used for this specific purpose. These expressions have been used idiomatically for a long time.

We also have the first quarter of the moon and the second, third, or last quarter of the moon.

quarters of the moon Ngram

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    I know NGrams isn't always to be taken too "literally", but the spike for dark in 1940 does smack of significance. Any ideas why? – FumbleFingers Jul 23 '11 at 0:19
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    @FumbleFingers WW2? Most likely the darkest nights of the lunar month had particular importance in wartime (and in immediately post-war stories), e.g. to undertake covert ground operations or perhaps (I'm guessing) bombing raids. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Dec 26 '18 at 9:04
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    @Chappo: In the years since I signed up here on ELU I've come to notice that quite a few significant usage shifts suggested by NGrams (esp AmE) cluster around WW2 or immediately after. I assume much of this is because servicemen from different parts of the country, different social strata, etc. were more likely to interact, so "useful" or "appealing" turns of phrase could spread more easily. – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '18 at 15:09
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I think the grammar is correct: if Dark of the Moon literally refers to the dark phase of the moon:

This would be the time during the monthly cycle (from Full Moon to the next Full Moon) when it's close to the Sun and isn't seen at night, so it doesn't contribute light to the night sky.

It would be used in a more allegorical sense to mean a darker phase of something, and it's likely astrological interpretations would have more appeal than astronomical.

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"Dark of the moon" is a unique phrase, that is, specific to talking about the moon. In other words, the way the word "dark" is used to describe the moon isn't the same as it would used to describe any other object.

There are a couple of different meanings for this phrase. One meaning of "dark of the moon" is an astrological term, relating to a time during a "dark moon," the time when the moon is dark in the night sky. In astrology, this time period is said to have a powerful effect on human spirit, and the nature of this effect is why the phrase "dark of the moon" might often be associated with certain themes of fiction, especially "dark" or "mysterious" fiction.

Another is to mean the "dark side of the moon" or the "far side of the moon." Although the "dark side" and "far side" of the moon aren't actually the same thing (the part of the moon that's dark changes, but the part that faces Earth does not) it's nonetheless common for people to use "dark side of the moon" when they mean "far side of the moon." In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, for example, the plot begins with robots crashing into the far side of Earth's moon.

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As far as I know, you are correct: "Dark of the moon" is not common, although I believe it is technically correct since "dark" is also a noun ("afraid of the dark"). I think the usual expression is "Dark side of the moon" or, perhaps more ominously, "Darkness of the moon".

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    First of all, thanks! Let me ask another way: Is "Dark of the moon" more correct than for example "Soft of the pillow" , "Hard of the rock" or "White of the fence"? They all make no sense to me :) – Mendel Jul 22 '11 at 5:35
  • The "dark of the moon" is the phase of the moon where it is dark, half a month away from the phase of the full moon. The "dark side of the moon" usually refers to the "far side of the moon", i.e., the side that can't be seen from Earth. The "darkness of the moon" is what you observe during a lunar eclipse. – Peter Shor Oct 4 '11 at 13:39
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Generally in English the definite article, the, is used in phrases with of in them: “The Statue of Liberty”, “The Bill of Rights”. “Cream of the Crop” and “matter of fact” are two that are used without the definite article and only in some contexts: “The cream of the crop” versus “cream of the crop”; “The matter of fact” versus “matter of fact”.

Look at the answers given to you. Most people instinctively used the definite article (the “Dark of the Moon” or “The Dark of the Moon”) in their response to you even though the phrase in question is “Dark of the Moon”.

But I may be wrong. I do not know any grammar rules governing the grammar of titles, idioms, and the like. Your examples were all titles. So my answer to you would be, being used as a title, it does not matter if it is correct grammar.

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    Kitḫ's answer has covered how the phrase works. This answer doesn't seem to add anything. It seems more like a rant. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 4 '11 at 7:20
  • If all you said at a given moment is "Dark of the Moon" with no context would it be bad grammar? The rules of English grammar wouldn't apply in that situation. If "Dark of the Moon" is used as a title, which the OP lists, the rules of grammar don't apply. If, in a sentence, you use dark of the moon, you can omit the definite article. It is all context and the OP doesn't give us a context. So how can anyone give a concise answer? – iakobs Oct 4 '11 at 8:56
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    Unjustified supposition is not helpful, no. Also, it's surrounded by a lot of words that seem like filler. Titles do normally conform to grammar. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 4 '11 at 9:11
  • "Being used as a title, it does not matter if it is correct grammar" doesn't add anything? The more I read most of these answers the more confused I am about what question they are answering. – iakobs Oct 4 '11 at 9:12
  • It is bad grammar and needs a verb. – iakobs Oct 4 '11 at 9:32

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