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britannica.com:
(1) The sight of her rendered him speechless.

"Of her" looks rather strange to me. I would have expected to see something like:
(2) Her sight rendered him speechless.

So, why is (1) written this way and what's the difference between (1) and (2)?

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    The first means his sight of her. The second is a bit unusual: it's saying her visual abilities rendered him speechless. Apr 6 at 18:21
  • Because the sight could be anything at all and not necessarily her. Oh look, Little Johnny spilled the cake batter all overhimself. That sight caused his mother to laugh. versus: The sight of him caused his mother to laugh.
    – Lambie
    Apr 6 at 18:27
  • It would be really useful for you to search corpora for uses. The smell of him after he fell in the garbage bin was horrible.
    – Lambie
    Apr 6 at 19:34

3 Answers 3

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"her sight" could mean the ability of sight that she possesses. When we talk about our senses we might say "my sight, my hearing" etc.

That isn't the case with all senses - for example, we would probably say "my sense of smell", because "my smell" could mean our own odour.

So really, it is just idiomatic to say "the sight of her" in this particular context and about that particular sense.

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A proper alternative would be "Seeing her rendered him speechless", again it is what the sensing person is seeing.

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Compare

I tried some of that fermented food. The taste of it made me retch.

The fire was burning furiously. The heat of it singed my eyebrows.

The preposition of can express the idea that the quality or attribute is intrinsic to the thing:

the taste of it = its taste

the heat of it = its heat

The difference is one of emphasis, I'd say. With the prepositional phrase version, the attribute (taste, heat) is foregrounded.

How does that translate over to the sight of her?

The sight there refers to an image beheld. To say that the image is "of her" is to say that her appearance is an essential element of her. The sight, the particular image beheld, is being foregrounded: how she looked, how she appeared to the beholder, is the important thing.

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  • If her intrinsic appearance (if that is not an oxymoron) is the subject of the sentence, I'd say “the look of her” or indeed “her looks”. Here I understand it instead as the act (by him, though involuntarily) of seeing her. Apr 7 at 21:13
  • I think there's a significant difference between "her looks" and, say, "how she looked to him", and that "the sight of her" is synonymous with the latter not the former. That was what I meant with "an image beheld" and "how she appeared to the beholder". I don't think her intrinsic (objective) appearance is the subject; the beholding of her appearance is the subject: "the sight of her".
    – TimR
    Apr 8 at 11:47

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