How do I use the phrase "in terms of"?

Can there be a clause after "of"?

For example, can I say "This is a great show worth watching in terms of how hard the actors have been working to prepare for it"?

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    It's grammatically valid, but a rather unlikely context in which to use in terms of X. Usually this expression means regarding/concerning X, in contexts where X is a factor or perspective that you wouldn't necessarily have in mind, and where there are definitely other perspectives that you're explicitly excluding by focussing on X. So "This is a great show in terms of the actors' lively performances, but the narrative thread is often confusing", say. – FumbleFingers Jun 7 '14 at 14:50

You may certainly use a clause which acts as an NP as the complement of in terms of. Here's the first Google hit on "in terms of how hard":

One of the major concerns of theoretical computer science is the classification of problems in terms of how hard they are. - Gasarch, Bounded Queries in Recursion Theory

But the particular clause you employ is problematic for me: how does the actors' difficulty in rehearsal factor as a term in a spectator’s enjoyment of the performance? (That, however, does not appear to be a problem which we can address here.)

FumbleFingers’ comment observes, cogently, that the problem may be the use of in terms of itself. Understood literally, in terms of announces the terms or categories you will use in speaking of the matter at hand; more generally, it is ordinarily used to head a phrase/clause which restricts the action of its main clause to a particular aspect or perspective which you are taking under consideration. You might write

This performance represents an extraordinary achievement in terms of how hard it was for the actors to prepare for it.

There you are judging the achievement in terms of—‘under the category of’—its difficulty, and excluding (for instance) the aesthetic effect and the emotional impact.

I don’t think that’s really what you mean; I think it more likely you intend something like

This is a great show, all the more impressive if you know how hard the actors had to work to prepare for it.

  • I think I probably edited the question text after you'd read it and composed most of your answer (it's now how hard the actors have been working to prepare). Like you, I can't easily see how the actors' difficulty in rehearsal might factor as a term in a spectator’s enjoyment of the performance (how would the audience even know the rehearsals were "difficult"?). But once you switch from great show to extraordinary achievement it suddenly becomes perfectly natural to qualify that in terms of the demanding rehearsals. – FumbleFingers Jun 7 '14 at 15:33
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    @FumbleFingers Thanks - I hadn't even noticed it had been edited. I've now excised what was irrelevant. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 7 '14 at 16:36

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