I would like to conclude the accurate meaning of sense in the following phrase.

a man of eminent good sense

That phrase is from one of example expressions in the entry for the adjective, 'eminent' in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

I assume the meaning of sense in that phrase is judgment, the 4th of the definitions defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary as follows. Why I assumed so is merely because eminent good sense is an uncountable noun and the 4th definition is the only one which is uncountable.

But meaning-wise, if it were a man of an eminent good sense or a man of eminent good senses, other definitions can be applied, wouldn't it be?

  1. [countable] one of the five powers (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) that your body uses to get information about the world around you
  2. [countable] a feeling about something important
  3. [singular] an understanding about something; an ability to judge something
  4. [uncountable] good understanding and judgement; knowledge of what is sensible or practical behaviour
  5. senses [plural] a normal state of mind; the ability to think clearly
  6. [countable] the meaning that a word or phrase has; a way of understanding something
  • 1
    Judgment is the correct meaning. With respect to your second question, you might find a man with an eminent good sense but you are unlikely to find a man of an eminent good sense as the latter would not be an idiomatic use. A man of impeccable reputation, yes, but A man of an impeccable reputation, no. The complement of of there is the quality nominally, in the abstract, not an instance of the quality.
    – TimR
    Jul 2, 2018 at 11:39
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    But even with with the indefinite article is not likely when the meaning of sense is "judgment".
    – TimR
    Jul 2, 2018 at 14:40
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    In contemporary American English, the phrase of eminent good sense would strike most speakers as rather formal, posh, or literary. The perception is the result of the adjective eminent, which is a word you don't hear on the street-corner or in the supermarket, in combination with a prepositional phrase headed by of expressing some human virtue. A stroke of good luck is normal register, so it's not the structure itself alone. But a person who says a woman of prodigious talent or a man of great discernment might as well be wearing a monocle :-)
    – TimR
    Jul 5, 2018 at 10:52
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    The preposition with reduces that "monocled" effect somewhat.
    – TimR
    Jul 5, 2018 at 10:55
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    Yes, the practical meaning is for all intents and purposes the same, and the difference is one of register, although as I mentioned, with makes the register only a little less "monocled" because the word eminent is a word not found in the working vocabulary of the average speaker.
    – TimR
    Jul 25, 2018 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


You are correct in your understanding of sense in the example. There's nothing more to be said about that. So I will now address the other part of your question.

If a person is of something, used to describe a characteristic such as sense, intelligence, stupidity, good looks, and so on, then that characteristic will pretty much always be the characteristic in the abstract. It is the characteristic, not an instance of it. Thus, it will always be a mass (uncountable) noun. It can also be used in the plural for things that people actually have several of - "a man of good ideas".

If you were to use with instead of of, then you could use it for characteristics in the abstract (mass nouns) or specific instances (countable nouns). You then use a definite or indefinite article as appropriate by the usual 'rules'.

A man with an eminent good sense.

This could mean someone with one of the "five senses" that are particularly acute, but being so close to a familiar phrase means that people would usually take it the usual way instead. Part of the issue is that "good sense" is acting as a noun phrase, which we are used to meaning "sense" in the sense of "judgement". You can make people interpret "good sense" as less of a set phrase by making them think of good as a separate adjective, by shifting eminent to become the adverb form eminently:

A man with an eminently good sense.

This says that the level of 'goodness' is such as to make it eminent. However, the "good sense" being there will still make people think of judgement, so it's not going to shift meaning to allow any other sense of sense. So let's swap good for another word that only applies to the "forms of perception" sense of sense:

A man with an eminent acute sense.
A man with an eminently acute sense.

The first says that the sense, whichever it is, is both eminent and acute. The second says that it is so acute as to be eminent.

Finally, if you make it plural the shades of meaning change again:

A man with eminent good senses.
A man with eminently good senses.
A man with eminent acute senses.
A man with eminently acute senses.

All of these will tend to be taken as something other than "judgement", because that sense of sense doesn't become plural. The difference between eminent and eminently is the same as above.

  • Thank you very much for the delicate answer. It is so helpful as for me to see and understand the issue perfectly! Mar 13, 2019 at 18:50

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