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"?


  • 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


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

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.

  • 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
  • 1
    That does it I think! Nice edit!
    – Brillig
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 14:48

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