In the course of reading Elizabeth Fernea’s Guests of the Sheik (a lively account of a year in Iraq which anyone interested in life in the Shiite south should read), I came across the following sentence: “Probably it was a combination of particular circumstances, many of which I remained unaware, plus the fact that people were just becoming used to our presence.” I instantly noticed that there was one “of” too few in the clause beginning “many of which…,” but I wonder how many readers pass right over it? I suspect that my job as an editor may make me hypersensitive to the inner workings of syntax.


  1. I noticed the “missing” “of”. I put “missing” in quotes because, had the sentence had that additional “of”, I would “of” felt that sentence would have too many “of”‘s.
    Note: Use of British punctuation sequence by this American is intentional, as I like it better. Still, I’m afraid I’ve made a mess of the plural.

  2. I noticed it too; but then I’m also an editor. If it had read “of many of which I remained unaware” I would have felt it had too many “of”s. On the other hand, “many of which I remained unaware of” would also have left me uncomfortable. If I had been the copy editor, I would probably have suggested “many of which remained outside my awareness” or something of the sort!

  3. I didn’t notice it at all, in fact, I had to go back over the sentence a couple more times to even see where the ‘of’ would have gone.

  4. I had to check back twice too.
    (That’s a grand book, you’re right!)

  5. It jumped out at me, but then I’m a copy editor. It’s an awkward sentence, no matter what. If I were editing it, I’d try to suggest something more graceful.

  6. I noticed it right off — & I’m a poet who hates editing. (Though I have the greatest respect for editors.)

  7. I used to be a copywriter and mangler of executive prose into copy, and I noticed it. But I actually like it. It reminds me of poetry where a single word functions as both the end of one phrase and the start of another (unrelated) phrase.

  8. Michael Farris says

    I give up, where’s the extra “of”?????? Damned if I can spot it, or have you corrected it already?

  9. Michael Farris says

    I read the book too many years ago, it’s really great.

  10. Michael Farris says

    Okay, I misread it’s supposed to be too few of’s, not too many. I’ll shut up now.

  11. Gerard Rukenau says

    I saw it instantly, too, and I’m Russian… Strange how they would let that go through, it’s really quite an explicit mistake, isn’t it? I would think it’s the “many of” part which, to the author or the editor, seemed to render the other “of” redundant. 🙂

  12. The strength of English comes from the fact that it never cared about formal rules. In Russian, in French, etc… you can easily get lost in the sentence under construction. Fairly unfrequent event in English. The too-many/too-few of’s problem would be typical for another language, and would translate an inadequacy of the language, the lack of means. Don’t start that in English! Do you remember that ending a sentence with a preposition was a sin not that long time ago?

  13. I am similarly bothered by “Jack, as John is commonly known, […]” instead of “Jack, as John is commonly known as, […]”.

  14. Doesn’t bother me unless I focus on it, probably because I mentally assimilate it to “as John is commonly called.”

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