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I've run into a small question about using of. Which of the following sentences are correct? If they both are correct, which one is more correct?

The theme is told through the characters Bob, Joe, and Ann.

The theme is told through the characters of Bob, Joe and Ann.

I've overthought this, as I always do, so I can't tell which one sounds right anymore. Can anyone help?

  • Roles are usually 'played' by actors; the most important roles are Bob, Joe and Ann. – StoneyB Jan 8 '15 at 0:12
  • @StoneyB I meant roles in a story. BTW edited it so it is clearer. – Pyraminx Jan 8 '15 at 0:13
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    I think either would work, though the one with "of" sounds better to my ear. I would probably go with "through the stories of Bob..." or "through the adventures/development/etc of Bob..." rather than characters. – Jason Patterson Jan 8 '15 at 3:22
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Yes it is a restrictive apposition. No, it is not a case of noun acting as adjective. The names are a restrictive appositive for "characters". But in the second sentence, Interposing "of" between "characters" and the names makes them not juxtaposed, hence not an appositive. The reason that the "of" in the second sentence does not work semantically is that it means the story depends on Bob, Joe, and Ann's "character" (their moral fiber, as it were). Unless you really mean that, it's better to focus on the three characters (in fhe sense of roles). As for the comma, I agree with Dr Moishe Pippik.

  • If you actually have reasons for your claims then you should site them. – levininja Jan 12 '15 at 15:48
  • @levininja: the sources are the ones YOU cited. There is nothing in the "noun as adjective" article that applies to this example. Pleases re-read that article. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 13 '15 at 1:24
  • how does it not perfectly describe this example? Did you not read the whole article? Two nouns in a row. The adjective comes first. You can write it without hyphens. You can read the phrase backwards "Bob, Joe, and Ann, who are characters". Again, you have not cited any sources to show how you got to your answer...that's not how answering questions on Stack Exchange sites is supposed to work. – levininja Jan 14 '15 at 22:57
  • The article says that when a noun is used as an adjective, the first noun acts as an adjective. It does not say that any time you see two nouns in a row, it must be a noun-acting-as-adjective situation. The appositive is a different situation. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 15 '15 at 8:28
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The first one is correct. What you have here is a case of a noun acting as adjective, or a restrictive apposition. This becomes apparent if you were to phrase the sentence with a singular noun.

The theme is told through the character Bob.

Character, which is normally a noun, is actually an adjective describing Bob, much like you might say

The lesson was taught by the history teacher.

In this case, Bob, Joe, and Ann are three parallel nouns, and characters is a noun-as-adjective describing all three of them.

  • What Bob? oh, the character Bob! I don't think that character is modifying Bob here. If anything, it's the other way around: Bob explains which character we are talking about. I can see it as a restrictive apposition, but that is very different from an attributive noun (not that your link keeps using scare quotes around "adjective", they do that for a reason.) – oerkelens Jun 9 '15 at 10:37
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The first sentence is wrong because it omits a comma after "characters". With the comma, it would be correct; the names are used as an appositive. Another example of apposition: "My friend, Alice, is here." Note the commas around Alice. The second sentence is correct as-is, because "of" links characters to their names in a prepositional phrase.

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    That is simply not correct. In your example, Alice has commas around it because it is a nonessential element (see rule #3 here aims.edu/student/online-writing-lab/grammar/comma-rules). That is not applicable to the OP's question. Putting a comma after characters would be wrong; it is correct as-is. – levininja Jan 8 '15 at 4:27
  • See chompchomp.com/terms/appositive.htm: an appositive used to end the sentence is preceded by a comma. – DrMoishe Pippik Jan 9 '15 at 3:42
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    It's a restrictive apposition; see here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . You can test this by removing the apposition from the sentence: "The theme is told through the characters." doesn't make any sense. Therefore it is restrictive and should not be set off by commas. – levininja Jan 9 '15 at 18:34
  • I added "restrictive appositive" to my answer for clarity; there are two ways of talking about what this is. – levininja Jan 9 '15 at 18:37
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    A more complete explanation for the necessity of a comma in the first example: without one, it implies a list of three out of all the characters, e.g. Alice was intentionally omitted. If the second example is correct, an appositive implies equivalence between characters and "Bob, Joe, and Ann"; there are no others. Omitting the comma changes the meaning of the sentence. Imagine a will being read: "I leave my house to my heirs Able and Bev," as opposed to "I leave my house to my heirs, Able and Bev," in which in the first case there may be other heirs, but not in the second. – DrMoishe Pippik Jan 9 '15 at 21:09

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