“She lives in a large copper castle, surrounded by walls and towers. No one but the king himself can pass in or out, for there has been a prophecy that she will marry a common soldier, and the king cannot bear to think of such a marriage.”
She was lying on the dog’s back asleep, and looked so lovely, that every one who saw her would know she was a real princess.The soldier could not help kissing her, true soldier as he was. Then the dog ran back with the princess; but in the morning, while at breakfast with the king and queen, she told them what a singular dream she had had during the night, of a dog and a soldier, that she had ridden on the dog’s back, and been kissed by the soldier.

This is a part of the fairy tale "The Tinder-Box" written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1835.
In that boldface part, why was "of" used instead of "about"?
I've already read this Q/A; "Dream of" and "dream about". Is there a difference?
But I still don't understand why in this case.

In short, what's the difference between the two sentences below?

  1. She had a singular dream of a dog and a soldier during the night.
  2. She had a singular dream about a dog and a soldier during the night.

Thanks for your help in advance.

  • 1
    Only thing I have to offer is three letters less to type. This is a comment not an answer because I would like to think there's more to it than that.
    – Ed Grimm
    Feb 18, 2019 at 5:08

2 Answers 2


This isn't about the nuance of the verb to dream, between to dream of and to dream about. Here, dream is a noun, and the nuance is different.

My sense of the difference is that "a dream of" is a dream featuring whatever is in the preposition phrase, while "a dream about" is a dream focussed on, or on the topic of, whatever is in the preposition phrase. So:

a dream ... of a dog and a soldier

This means that a dog and a soldier featured in the dream.

a dream ... about a dog and a soldier

This means that the dog and the soldier were the focus of the dream, its topic. One might also use of in this situation to refer to other characteristics, but the essential meaning that those characteristics are features remains:

a dream of wonder and imagination

It's also worth touching "a dream that", as that is the preposition of the next prepositional phrase. That formulation is generally used to describe events of the dream, rather than topics (which would use about) or elements (which would use of).

a dream ... that she had ridden on the dog's back

I hope that helps clear things up for you.


According to the Cambridge Dictionary:

dream about refers to sleeping and seeing images:

What did you dream about last night?

dream of refers to having a hope, a desire:

I dream of living on a tropical island.

In the case of this tale, dream of was used in order to emphasize that a desire became manifest during a sleep's dream.


She dreamed of a soldier and she had a dream about it.

  • But notice that the question is about which preposition goes with the name "dream", not with the verb "to dream". I think that you're not right, there is no "emphasizing of a desire" in the text.
    – RubioRic
    Feb 18, 2019 at 7:28
  • 1
    It's worth pointing out that the linked Cambridge Dictionary entry also gives "dream of" under the sleep-related version. "Of" can carry the other meaning, but it can also carry the other without an emphasis on desire, and I do not read the passage as carrying such an emphasis. It's not that this is what she wants before the dream, but rather that the prophecy is manifesting to her at this point.
    – Darael
    Feb 18, 2019 at 18:26
  • @Darel: I pointed out the desire as she was locked alone in a tower, probably aware of the prophecy. But your point about the prophecy manifesting is at least as good.Thanks for pointing out.
    – virolino
    Feb 19, 2019 at 5:27
  • @RubioRic: I noticed myself (while writing the last line in the answer) that we have verb "dream" and noun "dream". But the way I understand it (please correct me if I am wrong), the usage (and the meaning) of the prepositions "of" and "about" is the same, whether applied to the noun or to the verb.
    – virolino
    Feb 19, 2019 at 5:29
  • I agree with you in relation with the context of this question, both prepositions convey the same meaning. I wasn't sure about the use with the verb. I thought that "to dream of" meaning was different from "dream about", but it seems that all depends on the exact context. dream of/dream about can mean the same too, as you have stated dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dream-about-of-sth
    – RubioRic
    Feb 19, 2019 at 7:04

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