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In the following sentences:

This word is of French origin.

This word is French origin.

The first sentence is what I found on the web. But now I wonder what is different from the second sentence, which I came up with.

Is the second sentence considered grammatically incorrect? Otherwise, what is the reason to use of in front of French origin?

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  • I think 'of' makes it an adjectival phrase. "This word is French origin" doesn't seem to make sense. But I might be wrong.
    – dan
    Feb 21, 2019 at 9:10
  • Without the of preposition, This word is French origin is syntactically invalid. There might be some argument about whether the article is "syntactically required" in This word has a French origin, but in practice most native speakers would get round that by pluralising anyway: This word has French origins. Sep 8, 2019 at 16:20
  • @FumbleFingers, it's actually not the pluralizing that gets around it there, but the fact that you're changing the verb from "is" (equivalence) to "has" (posession). "This word has a French origin" would also work.
    – Foogod
    Sep 8, 2019 at 16:58
  • @Foogod: Of course. Something like a word can't BE an origin (French or not). But it's worth noting that Google Books thinks it has 4 pages of hits for word has a French origin, compared to at least 10 pages for word has French origins. Your singular usage is perfectly valid, but idiomatically it looks to be well down in second place behind the plural version for this exact context. Sep 8, 2019 at 17:18
  • I wasn't trying to suggest anything about popularity. I was just pointing out that the reason you gave for why your sentence works was actually not correct.
    – Foogod
    Sep 8, 2019 at 17:40

3 Answers 3

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French origin is not a noun phrase or adjectival phrase that can be applied to a word. Until relatively recently, I don't think it would have been seen as a valid adjectival at all. So, it makes no sense to say a word "is French origin".

Of French origin is an adjectival phrase that can be used here. Another possibility with the same meaning is French in origin.

Now, you might hear "nationality origin" used, as an adjectival, in things like "Colombian origin coffee". However, this is basically limited to foods and drinks, and artistic creations. It's about products, I suppose you could say.

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Of introduces a level of indirection.

This word is French origin.

The word originates in French.

This word is of French origin.

There might be something between the word and French.

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There are a couple of different things going on here. First of all, your second sentence:

This word is French origin.

..is not grammatically correct. The reason for this is that "French origin" is a noun, and you generally cannot use a noun as the direct object of "is" without an article ("a", or "the") in front of it. This sentence is rather like saying:

This animal is cat. (wrong)

instead of

This animal is a cat. (correct)

You could fix this by putting an article in your sentence:

This word is a French origin (grammatically correct, but wrong)

This would be correct grammar, but it would still not mean the same thing as your first sentence. The reason is that "is" implies that two things are the same thing (for example, that the thing we're talking about is at the same time both "this animal" and also it is "a cat"). However, "this word" we're talking about is not "an origin", it is a word (those are two fundamentally different things), so this sentence is not right.

This is where the preposition "of" comes in in the first sentence. Saying "A is of B" does not mean that A and B are the same thing (like "A is B" would mean), but instead means that A came from B, or A has qualities from B, which is actually what we want to say in this case:

This word came from a French origin.

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