Macmillan Dictionary defines "to make of" as

to use chances and opportunities in order to be successful.

It also provides us two examples:

This job is whatever you make of it.

I want to make something of my new life here.

I have no idea about what this dictionary is explaining there.

However, it seems like I grasp the meaning of those two examples, with the second definition of "to make of" in the same dictionary :

to understand someone or the meaning of something in a particular way.

Could you explain to me what the first definition of to make of is and how does its meaning work in the given examples?

Or do you also gree those examples are placed in wrong position?

1 Answer 1


The more literal meaning of to make [thing1, result] of [thing2, input] is illustrated by the well-known adage...

1: You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

...which is essentially the sense of Macmillan's to use [input] [in order] to create / obtain [result].

But there's also the more "extended, metaphoric" usage embodied in, for example,...

2: I don't know what to make of Brexit
3: What do you make of PewDiePie?

...which I think I'm right in saying always involves using what as a "pronoun" standing in for an otherwise unspecified "thing1, the result". In those contexts, the implied "outcome" is effectively an idea, reaction, assessment, so you can understand those examples as meaning I don't know what I think about Brexit / What do you think about PewDiePie?

Note that the additional preposition make out of in the more literal "sow's ear" example is optional (but usually included, particularly in that specific adage). On the other hand, it's almost never included in the more metaphorical "make an opinion" sense of the second two examples. That's just a matter of idiomatically established usage, not because of any particular syntactic principle.

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