In the American Heritage Dictionary, one of the definitions of the word lightweight is

A person of little ability, intelligence, influence, or importance.

When it comes to denote having certain features or qualities, I get lost when I want to determine which way to convey it. I often find myself asking questions like "Should I say of or with or that has or a gerund: possessing?" In the definition of the word lightweight, I have seen that almost in all other dictionaries they used the preposition of after the word person, and I was wondering why they used of instead of the following:

A person with little ability, etc.

A person who has little ability, etc.

A person possessing/having little ability, etc.

A person whose ability, etc is little

A person who exhibits/displays little ability, etc.

And the same ways of saying the above arises when I say other things such as:

A matter of/with/etc no importance.

A person of/with/etc 30 years' experience.

Could please help me lessen this paradox of choice?


1 Answer 1


Why do these dictionaries use of? It is a common English construction to use of when denoting a quality. It is also shorter and more concise than all the other alternatives you have listed.

Sometimes other constructions are just not the norm here. We would rarely say

a matter with no importance

although we might sometimes say

a matter that has little importance

But frankly

a matter of little importance is more concise and is just a common construction. I already pointed you to another question that shows many examples and some explanation.

Many dictionary definitions are concerned exactly with describing a thing of a certain quality, and just like I wrote of a certain quality just now, and I didn't write describing a thing that has... or any other option, it's frankly a matter of being concise and just using a common construction. There is not really a Why? to it, other than that.

  • So based on your answer if there is an idea in mind that I want to express that has a certain feature, then my criterion for determining which way to express it would be the one with the shortest and more used? Nov 11, 2015 at 5:15
  • 1
    I think your best bet is to keep getting more exposure to written English, and you see how often certain constructions are used... or maybe you'll just stop noticing the constructions in a conscious way and just kind of absorb different constructions based on the different contexts you encounter in your reading-and you'll be inclined to use these sane constructions when you write in English.
    – user20792
    Nov 11, 2015 at 5:23
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    Ghaith, no, I am saying the criterion should be to use whatever construction is most natural in a given context. Note that none of the examples in your question are complete sentences, they are phrases... it's kind of hard to give advice about phrases,other than to say that the construction you are asking about is common, concise and fits many contexts
    – user20792
    Nov 11, 2015 at 5:28
  • Okay, but when you say "whatever is most natural" is kind of subjective. I mean should I be limited to certain ways of conveying something? Like if I want to convey something, should I always stick to what is the shortest and most used or can't I be creative and find other ways of saying it? Nov 11, 2015 at 5:31
  • I live in the US and am going to a university for a bachelor's, so I am exposed fully to a lot of resources, but I am kind of a perfectionist about these things and want always to perfect them. Nov 11, 2015 at 5:34

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