Example: There is a group of customers who “are of” a similar age, the same sex.

Does it mean “belong to”, and what else does it possibly mean in other contexts?

  • People cannot belong to an age. Except maybe to say things like Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Age. But nobody can belong to a gender. Genders can no more own people than can ages. Someone has erroneously taught you to use belong in a way that does not work in English. Are you calquing some other language and simply getting it wrong? – tchrist Apr 7 '17 at 12:07
  • It is the definition of the word I forgot. Anyway, what does be of mean in general? – Sirapop Suathongkum Apr 7 '17 at 12:14
  • There is no easy way to explain the meaning. "Be of" is not a phrase in itself. "Of a similar age" is the phrase which describes that group of people. – Kate Bunting Apr 8 '17 at 8:24

The short answer is yes. The phrase “be of” means to belong to something, or identify with something, like a demographic or a requirement. Your first example is one of the most common phrases where “be of” is used, to be of age. In this case, it doesn't exactly mean “belong to”, but it means that you have enough age, rather than meaning that you have age. The word have doesn't always work, though. Your second example illustrates this, with being of the same sex, which can be misinterpreted if “have” is used. The OED uses an example, which doesn't use exactly the same interpretation, but still can be translated roughly to have.

‘this work is of great interest and value’

Some other examples from the OED illustrate your uses better:

‘The school has a number of buildings listed as being of historic interest.’

Source: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/be_of

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