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Down below is my thought about how "the X of Y" can be used. Can you help me check if my understanding is grammatically correct? I think this post might help other learners.


The structure "the X of Y" usually implies that Y has only one X.

For example,

Example 1

The heart of a human body

Example 2

The engine of a car

Example 3

The cushion of the armchair

But in my opinion, sometimes, according to the context, "the X of Y" can mean the special X that Y has.

For example,

Example 4

A: Now, the enemies are coming and they are too strong.

B: We have a weapon that can defeat them. Look, this is the weapon of our army.

This suggests the weapon is special and does not mean it is the only weapon.

Example 5

A: I found that one of the legs of the new table is problematic. Here, this is the leg of the table.

This suggests the leg is special (or has some special quality) and does not mean it is the only table leg.

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    I don't think any of your examples work very well. We usually just refer to the human heart without bringing in the body (and by the same token, it's usually the car engine and armchair cushion). I'd be more likely to say Look, this is our army's weapon (with explicitly "possessive" apostrophe). And Here, this is the [problematic] table leg (straightforward "attributive noun", no possessive). Other than that, (arbitrary) "idiomacy" plays a significant role (think Star of David and Victoria Cross). Jul 11 at 17:29
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    Yes, all your examples are syntactically correct. But I'm not convinced the structure "the X of Y" usually implies that Y has only one X is a useful "explanation" of anything. So far as I can see, it's only the fact of using the definite article that might imply "only one". And the main reason for using the leg of the table rather than the table leg probably isn't that the leg is "special" in some way - it's just a more natural form when contrasting that leg with, say, the leg of the chair. Jul 12 at 12:13
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    It's not really that "the X of Y" can mean Y has many Xs but this X is... More a matter of saying that "the X of Y" can be used regardless of whether Y has one or multiple Xs. And like I said, it's usually only "special" because of the definite article (as opposed to an X of Y). Jul 12 at 15:03
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    Don't get too hung up over "possession" and "belonging to" here. I might fry a chicken breast / breast of chicken for tea tonight, but by the time it goes in the frying pan, it's more obviously my breast [of chicken], not the [long-dead] chicken's! The sequence "[number] chair legs" wouldn't often occur in English, but if it was used, it would probably be a context where the legs weren't attached to / didn't "belong" to any table. They're just the kind of legs associated with tables. Jul 14 at 11:34
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    Yes, it sounds to me like you've got it clear in your mind now. Both the preposition-based (X of Y) and the Saxon genitive (Y's X) can be used to refer to "an X" which is somehow associated with Y (but not necessarily "owned" by Y). Also note that the "noun adjunct / attributive noun" form (a Y X) is rarely used to indicate "ownership" in this way (a car radio just means a radio of the type found in cars / a car). But My car radio doesn't work is far more likely than either of The radio of my car doesn't work or My car's radio doesn't work. Jul 14 at 17:25

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