I saw a sentence in Cambridge IELTS 14 said,

"Of particular interest were those built to the designs of John Shaw Billings."

I have some questions about it:

  1. What is the difference between "abstract nouns" and "of + abstract nouns"

I have seen some "of + abstract nouns" structure as objects in sentences like:

"It’s a book that will be of interest to a wide range of readers."

"It is of the utmost importance that this matter is kept confidential."

I just don't understand why there is an 'of' between verbs and objects. Can I say:

"It’s a book that will be interest to a wide range of readers."

"It is the utmost importance that this matter is kept confidential."?

Is this a special collocation to abstract nouns?

I've never seen concrete nouns being used like that, such as "This is of food that everyone can eat."

I wonder maybe this structure is some kind of omission.

For example,

"Be of interest" and "be of importance"

come from omission result of

"be (the things) of interest" and "be (the things) of importance".

Am I guessing right?

  1. When it comes to the first sentence in this question. Why it uses "were" instead of "was"?

Is it because this is an inverted sentence like:

"There were those..."?

Or is it, as my guess mentioned above, an omission losing the real subject like:

"(Things) of particular interest were those..."?

Or in fact, is it just Grammarly incorrect?

  • 1
    I think this question should go to English Language Learners. It is about English Language & Use, but you seem to be asking as a learner of English. Your question is, however, interesting. Many languages have a way of elevating a simple description, using a noun qualified by an adjective (for example "a very beautiful painting"), by linking the first noun to some related abstract noun (in the example, "a painting of great beauty". French does the same, using "de", the equivalent of "of". So does Greek (mia zographia megalis kalosynis - μια ζωγραφια μεγαλης καλωσυνης).
    – Tuffy
    Feb 3, 2020 at 23:24
  • II should add that I mean that connecting a noun with an abstract noun to ‘describe’ the noun ios not just a feature of English. In the case of Greek, the genitive case is use, rather than a preposition ‘of’. But that is because Greek does not have a possessive pronoun: it used instead the possessive case of ‘omorphia’. So the strange relation of possession or origin occurs in all three languages.
    – Tuffy
    Feb 4, 2020 at 0:45
  • 1
    This is an intelligently asked question. I agree that it is a better fit for ELL and I look forward to reading the answers!
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 4, 2020 at 3:15
  • 1
    Actually I think it's a good question for ELU. Feb 4, 2020 at 8:01

1 Answer 1


In answer to your second question, it's "Those [houses?] built to the designs of JSB were of particular interest", which is the same as saying that they were 'particularly interesting'.

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