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I found It's hard to understand the word of in some sentence which I gotten when I was checking the word of from an online dictionary.

A sort of explanation about of the dictionary given are shown below:

You use of to indicate a characteristic or quality that someone or something has.

And the dictionary also showed some examples:

the worth of their music.

According to the explanation given above,I suppose this sentence would means their music has a quality of worth.

the creaminess of her skin

I suppose this sentence would means her skin has a quality of creaminess.

So far the explanation works properly.

But,

She is a woman of enviable beauty.

I can't understand this one ,because I can't suppose it means the enviable beauty has a quality of a woman. It looks weird if I simply using the explanation to understand it.

And I also can not understand this one.

A matter of overwhelming importance

Source:http://www.iciba.com/of

the worth of their music means their music has a quality of worth. But a woman of enviable beauty means Enviable beauty's qualities are had by a woman.In other word,it means a woman has a quality of enviable beauty.so noun1 of noun2 seems sometimes means noun1 has a quality of noun2 ,and sometimes means noun2 has a quality of noun1 .

Are noun1 and noun2 exchangeable?

Taking an example:

Do the worth of their music and their music of the worth have the same meaning.

Thanks.

.

  • You are overthinking things. "You use of to indicate a characteristic or quality that someone or something has" explains it. She is a woman who has enviable beauty. The matter has overwhelming importance. That's all. Nothing more complicated than that. – stangdon Nov 3 '15 at 15:28
  • Just like the creaminess of her skin means "her skin has a quality of creaminess," a woman of enviable beauty means "her beauty is enviable." In other words, other women might envy her, because of her beauty. Similarly, a matter of overwhelming importance is simply "a very important matter." – J.R. Nov 3 '15 at 22:12
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I think this is partly due to the confusing examples the dictionary gives. The reason behind this seems to be that, when listing senses, the dictionary only focuses on the meaning, not the grammatical use of the word.

I think it's useful if you stick to this: in a noun phrase like this one, whatever comes before of is what we want to talk about.

Let's have a look at the first two examples:

The worth of their music

We want to talk about the worth, which comes before of, not the music. Although using of here lets us know that "their music has the worth," we are not talking about the music itself.

The worth of their music has decreased in the last few years

What has decreased here is the worth, not the music.

Likewise,

The creaminess of her skin

talks about the creaminess, which is a quality of her skin, but not the skin itself.

Now, for the other examples

A woman of enviable beauty

Remember, we want to talk about the thing that comes before of, so here we want to talk about a woman, not the enviable beauty. It just tells us the quality, i.e. the beauty, of the woman.

The same goes for

A matter of overwhelming importance.

Here, what is talked about is a matter, not its importance.


Note: I know I actually cheated when writing this answer, because these are, at least in my opinion, examples of two different uses of of (one is a complement, another a modifier.) For a more technical explanation on this matter, see Huddleston & Pullum (2002), page 439 and 446.

However, I believe it is important to keep things simple, and describing it this way, while not perfectly accurate, works most of the time for learners. If anybody wishes to write a more technically accurate answer, that would be great as well.

  • 1
    I would add "A woman whose beauty is enviable" as a translation with the same meaning with other words. – Carlos Mora Nov 4 '15 at 8:52
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Of is a hard word to define because English uses it for a lot of different meanings.

I can't understand this one ,because I can't suppose it means the enviable beauty has a quality of a woman. It looks weird if I simply using the explanation to understand it.

You're close here - think of it meaning Enviable beauty's qualities are expressed/evident in a woman or Enviable beauty's qualities are had by a woman.

It's possible to use an adjective as a noun to express the notion of a standard or definition of that quality:

Beauty is defined not just by looks but also grace.

  • thank you very much for your answer!I still can not understand it very much. so I made a addition to the question. – Tim Nov 4 '15 at 3:25
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A man of honour, a woman of beauty

Such genitive formulas are a literary device, called genitivus qualitatis in Latin grammar. Such genitives are a variant of adjective + noun:

  • A man of honour is an honorable man.

  • A woman of (great) beauty is a beautiful woman.

In such formulas an attributive adjective is transformed into a noun, placed after the original noun as of-genitive.

In "the worth of music" and "the creaminess of her skin" you have normal genitives as "music" or "skin" are no qualities that correspond to an adjective.

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