When to Use Of

Written by on May 9, 2017 in blog with 0 Comments

When to Use Of—and When Not To

Some people say it’s easy to know when to use of; others say it’s easier to know when not to use of. For one thing, I often see the phrase off of used, and I can’t think of a single example when it would be appropriate unless someone was attempting to use dialect.

I Can’t Think of a Single Instance Where You Need “Off Of.”

Instead of wondering when to use of, think of when not to use it.

There may be a few instances—depending on where you were raised—where you may prefer hearing the phrase off of instead of just off. But I can’t think of any. Perhaps because it sounds bad to me.

In most cases, you can eliminate the of or use the word from to replace the phrase. Consider the sentences below.

“Get that tree limb off of the roof.”
“Get that tree limb from the roof.”
“Get that tree limb off the roof.”

“She plucked a strand of hair off of his shirt.”
“She plucked a strand of hair from his shirt.”

“She plucked a strand of hair off his shirt.”

He jumped off of the diving board.
He jumped from the diving board.
He jumped off the diving board.

But It’s Not Just Off Of That’s a Problem

“Off of” is a recognized problem, but not because it’s unique. “Off of” is simply another misuse of the word “of”, but it’s easy to get rid of if you want to. You don’t always want to get rid of of though. Sometimes it’s appropriate.

Consider the Following Sentence.

My father used to tell me of his wartime travels.

The use of of is fine in that sentence. You could replace it if you wanted to by simply rephrasing the sentence to “My father used to tell me about his wartime travels.”

At Other Times, Using Of Is Simply Superfluous

Consider these sentences.

But the wars had taken so much of him: a wife, two daughters, all of his friends

He went to the movies with all of his friends.

In both instances, why not eliminate of?

But the wars had taken so much of him: a wife, two daughters, all his friends

or

He went to the movies with all his friends.

Is there any difference? Why did we use of? in the first two sentences? If you’re looking for examples of when to use of, the above two sentences do not qualify; they are prime example of when not to.

You’re Not Out to Eliminate Of, Simply Control the Use of it.

Using of is fine in many cases, but in just as many cases, it’s unnecessary. When you’re done your manuscript, do a search for of (make sure to use a space on each side of the word when you enter it into the search box; otherwise, you’ll get everything containing the letters “of”, like off, often, oft and plenty of others.)

Once you’ve run the search and found the places where you used it, analyze each one to see if you needed it. If you didn’t need it, take it out. If you need it, but feel that you have used the word too frequently, rewrite the sentence and substitute another word as we did above with the word about.

There Are Times to Use Of. The Trick Is Knowing When to Use of.

There are some instances where using of is not only okay, it’s necessary. Such as following the word regardless. Consider this sentence.

“I’m voting for Susie regardless of what she did.”

I can’t see a way to rewrite that sentence and have it retain its meaning without using of.

I’m not saying you have to use of after every instance of regardless, but you do most of the time. I’ve seen dialogue where of wasn’t needed, but in the typical course of writing, it’s needed. An example would be the following.

A detective says he is going to investigate a suspicious club alone, claiming it has the potential to be dangerous. And the detective’s partner says “It may be dangerous. Regardless, I’m going.”

What they’re really implying is “Regardless of the danger, I’m going.” Or “Regardless of what you say, I’m going.”

Either way, as you can see, if you include the words that had been omitted, because they were taken for granted, of is one of them.

Writing Is Always Better if It’s Tighter

When you edit you’ve got several goals. One is to find mistakes—that’s obvious. The other is to reduce word count and make the prose flow better.

I don’t know of many writers who finish the manuscript, then say they have to find places to add content. I have written more than two dozen books, and that has only happened to me once. It wasn’t a question of adding fluff, though. I needed to add meat, something to beef up the plot.

Usually, I’m looking for ways to cut words, and while that’s a lot easier than adding words, it’s still hard work.

Another Phrase to Look For

While we’re on the subject of cutting words, learn to search for redundant words and phrases. They’re ripe for picking when you look to reduce word count or to create a smoother reading experience.

What words am I talking about?

One word was used in one of the examples cited earlier—regardless.

I often see regardless paired with the word whether but it is normally not needed. Consider these examples and the alternatives. The first one I saw while reading a psychological thriller the other week. (The one with the use of whether.) The alternative example, I made up.

“I’m going to the zoo with Dad, regardless of whether Mom goes or not.”

Now, read this version.

“I’m going to the zoo with Dad, regardless of Mom’s decision.”

You only saved a few words by doing this, but you also made your writing cleaner, made it flow smoother. Any time you can accomplish both tasks, you’ve made your book better.

There are a lot of other redundant phrases to watch out for. I tackle a lot of them in my book on grammar, Misused Words for Business, No Mistakes Grammar, Volume II

So get your editing hat on and get busy. I’m sure you have a lot of work to do.

Ciao,

Giacomo

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About the Author

About the Author: Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammar and publishing. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends. .

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