In his Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone contended that the distinction between private wrongs and crimes was:

... As if I detain a field from another man, to which the law has given him a right, this is a civil injury, and not a crime; for here only the right of an individual is concerned, and it is immaterial to the public, which of us is in possession of the land: but treason, murder and robbery are properly marked among crimes; since besides the injury done to individuals, they strike at the very being of society; which cannot possibly subsist, where actions of this sort are suffered to escape with impunity.

Source: P138-139, How the Law Works, Gary Slapper

User Josh61 writes that 'of' = 'are among'. I know that William Blackstone lived from 1723 to 1780.

  1. Yet there's no verb in which of us? Where's the are from?

  2. How and when does 'of' mean 'among'?

  3. Is the use of which exceptional and rare? Is the cited explanation in that link right?

  • You can safely ignore Josh61's answer to the other question.
    – user230
    Aug 19, 2014 at 17:53
  • As so often happens with your questions, you select an archaic text, then ask us to propose direct replacement "synonyms" for text elements which are intrinsically linked to idiomatic syntax (which changes over time). In your example context it's possible to say of could be replaced by among (or which of us could be replaced by who, for example). But this probably won't help you to understand what the original words mean in other contexts. Aug 19, 2014 at 17:53

1 Answer 1


Answering these out of order:

"Of" can mean "among" when it refers to a set (plurality) of nouns. In this case, "us" refers to the set ["I", "another man"]. It does not matter to the public which among [this set] is in possession of the land.

Your inclusion of the word "are" is divorced from the context of Josh61's statement; in his sentence it does make sense, but that does not mean that you would include "are" here.

which of us refers to [those who are] [among us] ( in possession of the land).

In other words, "are" is used in its infinitive sense of "to exist".

"... refers to [those who exist within the set] [us]."

I would actually argue that Josh61's conclusion (in your linked question/answer) is wrong - this seems to match the very first, standard definition of "which". From a set, you are identifying a particular one. In other words, from ["I", "another man"], only one can be in possession of the land.

  • +1. Thanks. Would you please identify 'his' in your last paragraph? Whose conclusion is wrong? Also, would you please explain [this set] in your 2nd paragraph? I'm confused; how does it "not matter which among [a set of random people] is in possession of the land"?
    – user8712
    Aug 25, 2014 at 7:23
  • Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as a comment?
    – user8712
    Aug 25, 2014 at 7:24
  • @LePressentiment - I modified the last paragraph, but I'm not sure that editing the second paragraph will resolve anything. I was referring back to the sentence you originally posted. "...it is immaterial to the public, which of us is in possession of the land..." This phrase means exactly what I posted - to the public, it does not matter whether ["I"] or ["another man"] - the members of the set previously defined - are in possession of the land. This is purely a civil matter between the two set members. Aug 25, 2014 at 14:58

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