The structure to be + of + noun is usually taken to mean the same as to be + the relevant adjective. For example,

The speech is of complete honesty.

means the same as

The speech is completely honest.

Yet, I feel a slight difference between their meanings. It might be due to difference in emphasis. But I cannot spot the difference. Do they mean exactly the same? Is it like that one is sometimes preferred over the other?

  • 3
    The local district attorney might be completely honest when she states that she will not prosecute you for Crime A. However, complete honesty would be revealing that the federal prosecutor will. – Davo Aug 14 '17 at 18:32
  • @Davo So, what? – Sasan Aug 14 '17 at 18:35
  • 4
    Davo is saying that telling only the truth is not necessarily the same as telling the whole (relevant) truth. However, 'The speech is of complete honesty' sounds pretty unidiomatic. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '17 at 18:48
  • 1
    They sound worse. Check on Google for the relative occurrences of "He is a man of complete integrity" and "He is of complete integrity" to see that the inclusion of a sensible nominal complement can make a big difference to acceptability, then check "He is a man of complete honesty" and "He is of complete honesty" to see how slight changes can affect idiomaticity enormously. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '17 at 21:24
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    To be completely honest, there are differences, but they're too subtle to explain. – Hot Licks Aug 14 '17 at 22:08

To this native American English speaker, the first form is slightly stilted and archaic. Examples:

  • "To be of good cheer" vs. "To be cheerful"
  • "To be of no value" vs. "To be valueless"

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