3. [with object] Accept as valid:

4. [no object] (admit of) Allow the possibility of:

What are the similarities and differences? Aren't 3 and 4 equivalent:
Something is accepted as valid, but NOT necessarily accepted with finality
<=> something is an allowable/valid possibility?

In the following example, doesn't "The question is too general to admit one answer" mean alike?

The question is too general to admit of one answer.

Source: p 98, Ward Farnsworth

  • The question is too general to admit of one answer = This question is too general and it cannot have one answer. admit one... won't work here. Both are entirely different - admit something (with direct object) and admit of (no direct object). The previous means accepted as valid and the latter introduces the possibilities
    – Maulik V
    Jul 30, 2014 at 6:52
  • Meaning 3 is just about never heard outside court, I think. Look at the examples that are given. I would not assume anyone would understand what you mean if you use admit in that sense outside of court. For the admitting (of) one answer, the version with admit of indicates that it is not acceptable to assume only one answer will be correct. The version without of indicates that for some reason a court will not accept one answer as valid evidence in a case unless there are also other answers. That sounds ridiculous...
    – oerkelens
    Jul 30, 2014 at 7:37
  • 1
    From the OED: "I.2.d. With subord. clause. To allow, concede, grant (either from conviction, or for the sake of argument). ¶In these senses admit is sometimes followed by of." Personally, I think admit of sounds rather archaic or jargon-y.
    – user230
    Jul 30, 2014 at 20:00
  • @MaulikV Thanks. Does your comment contradict Nico's answer below, though?
    – user8712
    Aug 3, 2014 at 6:27

2 Answers 2


Merriam–Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (MWDEU) has an entry for 'admit of'. It quotes Fowler (1926) pointing out "that the combination 'admit of' is more limited in application than it once was and that it usually takes a nonhuman subject" (emphasis mine).

MWDEU lists the following examples of use with a nonhuman subject:

[...] questions which, by their very nature, admit of no satifactory answer
(R. A. Posner, New Republic, 21 Aug. 2000)

They content that many words are absolutes that do not admit of comparison
(Bernstein, 1971)

The rule [...] admitted of some justification
(W. Raspberry, Springfield (Mass.) Union News, 20 Jan. 1989)

The problems of ecology [...] admit of rational solution
(A. Huxley, Center Mag., Sept. 1969)

It is a judgement that admits of no excuses
(B. Ehrenreich, N.Y. Times Book Rev., 14 Oct. 1990)

and the following example of the rare usage with a personal subject:

But even they will admit of a number of amusing eccentricities
(S. Winchester, The Professor and the Madman, 1989)

Hence, to answer the OP's question, both sentences:

The question is too general to admit one answer.
The question is too general to admit of one answer.

have essentially the same meaning. Although the latter version is rarer, it has, as Fowler points out, a nonhuman subject.


The question is too general to admit one answer

That doesn't sound right to me. I don't think anyone would say it like that. A question can't admit anything. To admit something is to let that thing in, to allow it entry. You need some agent to do the admitting. A question can't admit an anwer, and if it could, into where would it be admitting the answer?

As oerkelens pointed, meaning #3 is mostly—if not exclusively—to do with courts of law. A court can admit something as evidence. Or admit it into evidence, as they say.

The question is too general to admit of one answer.

Admit of is pretty rare and would only be used in very formal writing.

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