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What is the differentiator between these two phrases?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

These are not two variants of the same phrase. "Of" is simply a preposition.

  • "... that which you own ..."
    → You own something.
  • "... that of which you are the owner ..."
    → You are the owner of something, that's where the preposition comes from.

Similarly, you could encounter "that in which you", "that under which you", "that from which you", and theoretically even "that out from behind which you". The possibilities are (almost) endless!

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am I understanding this correctly: I should only use of (or any other preposition) if I follow it with a prepositional phrase, and not include a preposition if only using a verb? For example, "that of which you own" and "that which you are the owner" are both wrong? – Eruditass Aug 31 '10 at 15:08
@Eru: 1) yes, these examples are both wrong. 2) In the sentence "I'm the owner of X", the prepositional phrase is the "of X" part. When you turn things around to say "that of which I'm the owner", the prepositional phrase is the "of which" part. Now take the sentence "I think of X". Here, the prepositional phrase is still "of X". When you turn it around, "that of which I think", you must still use the preposition "of", although there's only the verb and nothing else. If there is a preposition in the "normal" sentence, keep it when "turning it around", whether there's just a verb or more. – RegDwigнt Aug 31 '10 at 16:58
Couldn't "that of which you own" mean a thing you own part of, like "that piece of land of which you own half" or "the sand, of which you brought some home from the beach"? – malach Sep 20 '10 at 13:25
@Ralph: absolutely, but I wasn't commenting on "that of which you own a part ", I was commenting on "that of which you own, period". As in, "(*****)You own of that car." ↔ "(*****)That car of which you own." That's ungrammatical, and that's what I was talking about. I thought that was clear from the context. As to your second example, I covered it, too. Whether you think of something or bring home some of something, all that matters is that there's a preposition before "something", and it should be kept when you replace the "something" with a "which". – RegDwigнt Sep 20 '10 at 14:52

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