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I am trying to help my girlfriend study english.

She was wondering why use "of" in the following sentence:

The Chinese self-image is still in so many ways, of a weak country.

Is it simply a more formal way of describing something which must be learned by rote, or is there a grammar rule I can explain to clarify it?

  • There is nothing unusual at all about the of in the sentence. Try to read it simplified by dropping the parenthetical: "The Chinese self-image is still (that) of a weak country" -- that can and usually is omitted where it is safe to do so. – Kris May 27 '15 at 15:11
  • Please also visit English Language Learners – Kris May 27 '15 at 15:12
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An image is not a country, which is what you say if you omit of:

The Chinese self-image is . . . a weak country.

We ordinarily say that we have an image (a picture) of something. In this case it's complicated by the use of self-image; the literal sense of the sentence is that

The Chinese image of themselves is [an image] of a weak country.

It would be more rational to say that

China's image of itself is [an image] of a weak country.

But this sort of conflation of the country and its people, like that of an organization and its members, is pretty standard.

  • How about using "that" ("is that of a weak...")? – Centaurus May 27 '15 at 14:42
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    @Centaurus That would be fine; the referent of that would be an image, so it amounts to the same thing. – StoneyB May 27 '15 at 14:51
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"Of" indicates belonging. So in the example sentence given, the assumption is that weak countries have certain shared characteristics, and the Chinese self-image is then suggested to be from that class of shared characteristics.

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