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I don't know the meaning of 'of' in this sentence (also in the picture):

My job: to take that most precious of gifts you give me -

I think that 'to take that most precious gifts you give me.' is good enough. But why does the sentence above obstinately include the 'of' in the sentence? What is the difference in meaning? trimmed image

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    Please take care when posting images to trim off unnecessary whitespace – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 26 '17 at 11:50
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    That most precious gifts you give me would be ungrammatical: that takes a singular head (gift), not a plural one. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 26 '17 at 11:52
  • thank you, next time I will pay attention to my posting. – 박용현 Apr 27 '17 at 7:38
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This usage reflects a somewhat "elevated" style.

Normal: the most precious gift

Elevated: this|that|the most precious of gifts

The elevated version means "Of all possible gifts, the one which is most precious". There is no gift more precious than it, the most precious gift in the whole world.

The normal means "the most precious gift of the (limited) set of gifts under consideration". The most precious gift of those gifts, but not necessarily of all gifts.

Moreover, the demonstrative that assumes (rhetorically) a universal consensus of opinion on the matter.

P.S. I do not take "you give me" as a restrictive clause here.

P.P.S. Let me try to explain my P.S.

I understand the noun phrase "that most precious of gifts" to be actually this:

that most precious [gift] of gifts

The determiner that determines the nominal "most precious [gift] of gifts".

What about "you give me"?

If you give me restricts "gifts" (gifts you give me), because of the present tense the reference would be to gifts that could be given at any time, from time to time, the one you are giving me now, those that have been given in the past, and those that are yet to be given. Since we cannot single out an acknowledged superlative ("that most precious") from a set that is not yet complete and bounded, "you give me" cannot restrict "gifts". It can only restrict "most precious [gift] of gifts", which is a bounded set with a single member: the best of the set of all possible gifts.

Now, if it had said "that most precious of gifts you could give me" or "that most precious of gifts you could ever give me" or "that most precious of gifts you have given me" or "that most precious of the gifts you give me", then it would be bounded, and it would support selection of the best from that bounded set, and "you could give me" could restrict either "gifts" or "most precious [gift] of gifts".

  • +1 I think you give me has to be understood as restrictive; but it is ambiguous whether the referent it restricts is gifts or that most precious of gifts. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 26 '17 at 12:41
  • @StoneyB. With that at the head of the noun phrase, and absent a determiner before "gifts", I don't find it to be ambiguous. I take "you give me" to modify the adjective-nominal "most precious [gift]: "that most precious [gift] of gifts". If it had said "that most precious of the gifts" then I'd sense ambiguity but take "you give me" to modify "the gifts" only. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 26 '17 at 12:59
  • I agree that those are the 'default' interpretations; but they are in both cases implicatures, not entailments, and cancellable either explicitly or contextually. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 26 '17 at 13:48
  • I've added a P.P.S. to try to explain my thinking here. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 26 '17 at 13:51
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of indicates ownership or membership. It's not just any precious gift, but the most precious one of the gifts that you have given me. You could interpret it as "The most precious one out of all the gifts you give me."

"That most precious gifts you give me" isn't correct because that is used for singular things, and gifts is plural.

"The most precious gifts you give me" or "Those most precious gifts you give me" refer to all of the gifts, rather than one out of the gifts, which is what the of indicates.

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/That most precious gift you give me/ is not ungrammatical. It means this gift is the most precious one you are giving me. That implies there are others that are not as precious as this one. However, the meaning of that sentence is not the meaning of "/That most precious of gifts?. Take these phrases as further examples of this structure:

The funniest of men

The wisest of brothers

The richest of women

The stupidest of ideas

The dumbest of politicians

The craziest of ideas

The oddest of places

They do not have the same meaning as saying: the dumbest politician. The use of the + superlative + of + noun is stronger and clearer. This a stylistic device in English. It packs more of a wallop than: the funniest man, the richest woman, the stupidest goat, the dumbest politician and differs in meaning slightly. There is really no group or class of noun here.

why? The use of the plural noun means the adjective in the superlative is referring to an entire group as a class of people, animal or things.

Like this: Of all the politicians (as a group), he is the dumbest. Or: He is the dumbest of all politicians.

As can be seen, that is not the same as: He is the dumbest politician (but not the dumbest man). In this last sentence, there is no group against which his dumbness is being compared. [Joke: Am I really writing that??]

Ergo, there is a slight difference in meaning created:

He is the dumbest politician [but he might be the smartest of men]. VERSUS He is the dumbest of politicians [n the group known as politicians].

It is more emphatic and makes very clear that the superlative form of the adjective is being used to put the person, animal or thing in a group.

Verb: you give me implies that the gift is a general notion just like: The support you give me helps me in school. [a general notion]

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