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Friday, November 22, 2013

Prepositional Idioms with “of”

Prepositional Idioms with “of”

The other day I read a letter supposedly written by a literature professor. It contained what struck me as the unidiomatic use of the preposition to attached to the adjective ignorant.
Note: An expression is idiomatic when its meaning is not deducible from the meanings of the individual words. In idiomatic usage, the exact same words can have different meanings, depending upon context. Take, for example, the phrasal verb “put out”:
  • put out the light (extinguish)
  • put out the cat (place outside)
  • put out your hand (extend)
ESL learners spend hours memorizing dependent prepositions and the words they appear with because few dependable rules exist to explain the usage. We’re angry with a person, but angry about an injustice. We’re concerned about our children, but concerned with the ecological movement. I don’t remember having been taught these patterns. I just know what “sounds right.”
The dependent preposition I’ve always heard used with the adjective ignorant is of:
He was ignorant of the consequences of his actions.
For this reason, I was startled to read what the literature professor wrote:
I specialize in literature, feminism, and cultural criticism (so naturally I would be ignorant to something that got 700,000 views).
Note: the professor was being sarcastic. Of course she knew about whatever it was that “got 700,000 views.”
My impulse was to condemn the unidiomatic usage “ignorant to” without further ado, but then I recalled the way “bored of” has spread in recent years.
To me, “bored of” is horribly unidiomatic, but since writing an unforgiving post about it, I’ve seen on Google N-Gram Viewer that the appearance of “bored of” in printed books has risen precipitately since the 1980s. Further, according to the Oxford Dictionaries online site, “the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of “bored of” than “bored by.”
Clearly my knee-jerk reaction to unidiomatic preposition use bears examination.
I did a web search. Sure enough, “ignorant to” is out there in blog postings and reader comments:
Why are people… so ignorant to the facts?
I think he’s ignorant to the fact that they both wanted it
People just are ignorant to the fact that system files use up that space too.
Torres seems ignorant to the danger he is in.
So far, “ignorant to” is still rare in modern usage compared to “bored of.”
By the way, just because the folks at Oxford acknowledge the popularity of “bored of,” they also acknowledge that it’s still not considered to be standard English: “It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.”
When it comes to which preposition to use with which adjective, the spirit of the language will decide. Meanwhile, careful writers and speakers may wish to review current prepositional use and use the established patterns.
To get you started, here are a few examples of adjectives that take the preposition of:
accuse of: The homeless man was accused of vandalizing a park bench.
acquitted of: When more evidence came to light, the man was acquitted of the charge.
capable of: Unsocialized children are capable of atrocious behavior.
censorship of: Throughout history, governments and religious institutions have advocated the censorship of books.
consist of: Krapp’s diet consisted of bananas and water.
convince (someone) of: You’ll never convince him of the truth of your argument.
critical of: He is critical of everything I write.
deprive of: Millions of children grow up deprived of ordinary comforts.
disapprove of: Some people make it a policy to disapprove of everything they didn’t think of first.
jealous of: Some men are jealous of the success of their wives.
kind of: What kind of books do you like to read?
regardless of: The soldiers were required to shave, regardless of their wishes.
required of: Familiarity with standard English is required of all applicants.
short of: I can’t go to the movies because I’m short of cash.
take charge of: Adolescents are encouraged to take charge of their learning.
unmindful of: The wounded man staggered aimlessly, unmindful of traffic.
worthy of: This writing is worthy of a professional novelist.
And, let’s not forget,
ignorant of: Many native English speakers seem to be ignorant of established prepositional use that ESL learners struggle to master.

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