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Can anyone please tell me what's the difference between in and of in the following sentences? Are they both correct?

  • Lionel Messi is the greatest player of/in the Argentina football team.

  • John is the best student in/of the class.

  • The roads in/of the USA are wider than those of Russia.

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2 Answers 2

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X of Y has a lot of meanings. Some of them are:

  • Expresses a "belonging" or "ownership" relationship - Y belongs to X

  • Expresses the "component" part of a "component-whole" relationship - X is a part of Y.

X in Y has several meanings, but it mostly means.

  • X is completely or substantially surrounded by all sides/borders/edges of Y. This can be "3D" (containers or covers; I'm in a box) or "2D" (places or areas; I'm in a square I drew on the ground with chalk).

If Y is a large container-like entity, like a country, building, etc. the things that "belong to" it or the things that are a "part of" it may lie within it.

So I can say 1st Street is both a road of (because it constitutes part of) and a road in (because it's surrounded on all sides by the borders of) my neighboorhood, city, etc.

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In these cases, in and of are interchangeable. Of relates to being a part of something, in relates to a group somebody is in.

If you think of Argentina, the class and the USA, these are places, which also can be interpreted as entities, giving a reason why both prepositions can be used.

However, I think that if you use of in the first sentence, it will give you the impression that Messi is one of the all-time greats of the Argentina football team, if not the greatest; however, in will imply that he is the best in the current Argentina football team.

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