I came across an unusual to me usage of preposition 'of':

When criticisms were made of the school's performance, the parents' group countered with details of its exam results.

This photograph was taken of them in the airport in Miami.

I'd though that in such cases we use 'of' directly after the noun as I wrote below:

When criticisms of the school's performance were made, the parents' group countered with details of its exam results.

This photograph of them was taken in the airport in Miami.

Can someone show the grammar rule I have missed?

  • 1
    Great question! I don't know the technical reason but I can tell you that When criticisms were made of the school's performance sounds more natural than your alternative. And that your alternative for the second sentence sounds more natural than This photograph was taken of them in the airport in Miami.. The sentence about the school makes sense in both the original and your change. The one about the photo sounds ridiculous to a native speaker in the first form, only your version would ever be used.
    – tjp
    Mar 27, 2018 at 13:14
  • The reason why the first sentence sounds natural and the second is not might be due to make of being a phrasal verb meaning having a particular attitude towards something and a photo of them being a prepositional phrase. Also I think generally a long subject sounds awkward.
    – Yuri
    Apr 20, 2018 at 9:23

2 Answers 2


The "normal" word order is to place phrases that describe the noun, like "of the school's performance" and "of them" in your examples, immediately after the noun. But arrangement of such phrases is somewhat flexible.

Writers sometimes vary it if the normal order could result in the sentence being ambiguous or confusing. For example, if it might look like the following words are part of the "of" phrase rather than applying to the noun. Writers also re-arrange clauses for emphasis.

But neither of those considerations apply here. "The photograph was taken of them", in particular, is odd and unusual. I don't see a good reason why the writer broke the normal word order. It may simply have been a hastily-written sentence.

  • Thank you, but in case you didn't google, Google returns a lot for "photograph was taken of", including top websites such as theguardian. Mar 27, 2018 at 14:19
  • @AlexanderMadyuskin - you are eventually confusing something. Take a photograph of sb/sth is different from your question. Your question is concerned with 'Why "of" and not "about"?' whereas 'take a photo of' relates to 'Why "of" and not "from"?'.
    – JoHKa
    Apr 24, 2018 at 15:58

I don't know about formal rules, but the way I think about sentences like this is "how many things do I have to hold onto in my mind all at once before I can start to make sense of this?"

So in your first sentence, the very first word "when" starts a thought that can't finish until it finds "were made". It's like a sneeze waiting to happen. And in the first formulation of it, I can coalesce those concepts and squash them into one in my mind very quickly. In the second formulation, I'm stuck holding on to that "when" for a long time. Ah-choo.

The two sentences about photographs is less clear to me. At first glance I agreed with Jay that one was strongly preferable, but the longer I looked at them the less certain I became. I can now imagine someone using either one depending on the context.

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