use-icon

HOW TO USE THE DICTIONARY

Learn what the dictionary tells you about words.

Get Started Now!

Some compound words (like bus rapid transit, dog whistle, or identity theft) don’t appear on the drop-down list when you enter them into the search window. If a compound term doesn’t appear in the drop-down list, try entering the term into the search window and then hit the search button (instead of the “enter” key). Alternatively, begin searches for compound terms with a quotation mark.

use-icon

THE USAGE PANEL

The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. The Panelists are surveyed annually to gauge the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

The Panelists

puzzle-icon

NEED HELP SOLVING A CROSSWORD PUZZLE?

Go to our Crossword Puzzle Solver and type in the letters that you know, and the Solver will produce a list of possible solutions.

open-icon

INTERESTED IN DICTIONARIES?

Check out the Dictionary Society of North America at http://www.dictionarysociety.com

open-icon

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY APP

The new American Heritage Dictionary app is now available for iOS and Android.

scroll-icon

INDO-EUROPEAN & SEMITIC ROOTS APPENDICES

Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

Indo-European Roots

Semitic Roots

The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

open-icon

OPEN DICTIONARY PROJECT

Share your ideas for new words and new meanings of old words!

Start Sharing Now!

100-words-icon

See word lists from the best-selling 100 Words Series!

Find out more!

OF
Share:
abbr.
1. Old French
2.
a. outfield
b. outfielder

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 
of (ŭv, ŏv; əv when unstressed)
Share:
prep.
1. Derived or coming from; originating at or from: customs of the South.
2. Caused by; resulting from: a death of tuberculosis.
3. Away from; at a distance from: a mile east of here.
4. So as to be separated or relieved from: robbed of one's dignity; cured of distemper.
5. From the total or group comprising: give of one's time; two of my friends; most of the cases.
6. Composed or made from: a dress of silk.
7. Associated with or adhering to: people of your religion.
8. Belonging or connected to: the rungs of a ladder.
9.
a. Possessing; having: a person of honor.
b. On one's part: very nice of you.
10. Containing or carrying: a basket of groceries.
11. Specified as; named or called: a depth of ten feet; the Garden of Eden.
12. Centering on; directed toward: a love of horses.
13. Produced by; issuing from: products of the vine.
14. Characterized or identified by: a year of famine.
15.
a. With reference to; about: think highly of her proposals; will speak of it later.
b. In respect to: slow of speech.
16. Set aside for; taken up by: a day of rest.
17. Before; until: five minutes of two.
18. During or on a specified time: of recent years.
19. By: beloved of the family.
20. Used to indicate an appositive: that idiot of a driver.
21. Archaic On: "A plague of all cowards, I say" (Shakespeare).

[Middle English, from Old English; see apo- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Usage Note: The "double genitive" construction, in which a possessive form appears as the object of the preposition of, as in a friend of my father's or a book of mine, is looked down on by some grammarians and usage critics. But this construction has been used in English since the 1300s and serves a useful purpose. It can help sort out ambiguous phrases like Bob's photograph, which could mean either "a photograph of Bob" (i.e., revealing Bob's image) or "a photograph that is in Bob's possession." A photograph of Bob's, on the other hand, can only be a photo that Bob has in his possession and may or may not show Bob's image. There are also cases in which the double genitive may be more elegant; for example, many speakers find such sentences as That's your only friend that I've ever met or That's your only friend I've ever met to be awkward or impossible, but rephrasing using the double genitive provides an acceptable alternative, as in That's the only friend of yours that I've ever met. • Adverbs of degree, such as too, that, and so, tend to cause a shift in the word order of a sentence under certain circumstances. For instance, it's common to speak of "a long movie" or "a big deal," but not of "a too long movie" or "a that big deal." The customary way of rewording in these cases is to place the adverb and adjective before the indefinite article rather than after it: too long a movie; that big a deal. Often, especially in speech, an of is inserted as well: too long of a movie; that big of a deal. But this construction using of is considered ungrammatical; in our 2012 survey, 74 percent of the Usage Panel found the sentence That's too long of a movie for me to sit through unacceptable. A somewhat smaller number, but still a majority58 percentdisapproved of He wanted to apologize, but I told him it wasn't that big of a deal.

Our Living Language Some speakers of vernacular English varieties, particularly in isolated or mountainous regions of the Southern United States, use phrases such as of a night or of an evening in place of at night or in the evening, as in We'd go hunting of an evening. This of construction is used only when referring to a repeated action, where Standard English uses nights, evenings, and the like, as in We'd go hunting nights. It is not used for single actions, as in She returned at night. · These of and -s constructions are related. The -s construction, which dates back to the Old English period (c. 449-1100), does not signify a plurality but is similar to the so-called genitive suffix -s, which often indicates possession, as in the king's throne. Just as this example can also be phrased as the throne of the king, nights can be reformulated as of a night. This reformulation has been possible since the Middle English period (c. 1100-1500). Sometimes the original -s ending remains in the of construction, as in We'd walk to the store of evenings, but usually it is omitted. Using of with adverbial time phrases has not always been confined to vernacular speech, as is evidenced by its occurrence in sources ranging from the Wycliffite Bible (1382) to Theodore Dreiser's 1911 novel Jennie Gerhardt: "There was a place out in one corner of the veranda where he liked to sit of a spring or summer evening." · Using such of constructions reflects a long-standing tendency for English speakers to eliminate the case endings that were once attached to nouns to indicate their role as subject, object, or possessor. Nowadays, word order and the use of prepositional phrases usually determine a noun's role. Despite the trend to replace genitive -s with of phrases, marking adverbial phrases of time with of is fading out of American vernacular usage, probably because one can form these phrases without -s, as in at night.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

This website is best viewed in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari. Some characters in pronunciations and etymologies cannot be displayed properly in Internet Explorer.