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I got confused when I was reading this sentence.

He was of Libyan descent and investigators say he recently spent three weeks in Libya.

Why does this sentence use "was of" and not just "was"?

Thanks.

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  • In addition to what the 2 answers say, dropping of to produce "He was ( * ) Libyan descent" makes the person out to be some kind of descent (whatever that means), which isn't what the original says.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 14:37

2 Answers 2

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If one were to say he was Libyan then it would be understood that this person was a Libyan national, either born in Libya or otherwise a person who became a Libyan citizen at some point.

Instead, as stated, to say he was of Libyan descent means that this person is not necessarily (the presumption would be he is not) a Libyan national or Libyan citizen, but instead his connection to Libya is through his hereditary lineage - perhaps some or all of his parents or grandparents were Libyan.

Perhaps this phrase would be more understandable to you if you substituted some words and considered:

  • he was of a Libyan hereditary lineage
  • he was of a hereditary lineage that originated in Libya
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To be + of + [adjective] + descent simply means "to have the origins described by the said adjective."

Thus, if he was of Libyan descent, his ancestors came from Libya.

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  • Upvoted - good answer, although you might have been more clear around what you meant by his origin was Libyan - I think this phrase means more precisely that some of his ancestors' origins were Libyan not that he necessarily originated there.
    – Brillig
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 14:41
  • @Brillig If you have a less confusing way in which I might formulate that, please let me know. I'm always open to suggestions. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 14:43
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    That does it I think! Nice edit!
    – Brillig
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 14:48

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