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A recent thread on ELL has raised a question in my own mind regarding something in an answer. Consider these two sentences:

All the computers in this section are the same price.
These watches are different designs.

An answer originally suggested adding "of":

All the computers in this section are of the same price.
These watches are of different designs.

"These watches are of different designs" is a construction you would routinely see in formal or technical writing. In casual speech, people would tend to leave out the "of". But the "of" sounds perfectly normal.

However, "All the computers in this section are of the same price" is something I would never expect to see in speech or in writing (at least in AmE). Looking at the words, they seem grammatically correct to me, and I can't see any reason why it would be wrong. But it just sounds totally unnatural for some reason.

I speculated that the reason might be that in this context, "of" is associated with being part of something larger or part of a set. "The same price" means that they're equal, which conflicts with that usage. That explanation seemed logical. However, even "are of different prices" sounds off, so I don't think that is the issue.

Addendum: discussion in comments makes the issue clearer. I'm not sure if it is "of" that's the problem, or the "are of" combination, which is commonly used with some words but rarely with others in AmE.

"Xs are of different designs" would be common enough, but "Xs are of the same price" would not. English Student comments that "are of different prices" is common usage in India, so it may a regional thing. Let me refine the question, then.

In AmE, some words that refer to properties or attributes, like "designs", "materials", "sizes", "ages", and "colors", all might be used with "are of" (although the "of" would likely be dropped in conversational speech). Others, like "prices", are not typically used with "are of" (off the top of my head, other examples don't come to mind).

Perhaps "prices" was not always an exception but fell out of use with "are of" at some point. But in recent times, "are of" and "prices" aren't typically used together in AmE. So my question: is there a pattern, rule, linguistic quirk, something inherent in the definitions, grammatical oddity, etymological basis, or other reason why this specific word, "prices", (and I assume some others), doesn't fit the normal pattern?

  • I think if "of" is added, it should be "These watches are of different design." The questioner got poor advice on ELL. Maybe we need a "rotten" tag or "teachersF" – Xanne Jun 24 '17 at 22:09
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It's difficult to be definite about it, but it seems to be that the distinction becomes more apparent when one contrasts it with

All the computers in this section have the same price.

These watches have different designs.

That's how most people would say it in my part of the world (South Africa), and it illuminates the question because it brings it down to having vs. being. Computers have prices - they don't belong to the price, the price belongs to them. Likewise the watches have a design, but the design is very much a part of what they are, so one could think of them as belonging to the design - therefore "being of" the design.

  • This is a very interesting theory. "Designs", "materials", "sizes", "ages", and "colors" are all inherent in the item. "Price" is something that's assigned to it. Mental gymnastics for another assigned attribute: a brand label. People might say "these are in our Premier line" or "these are part of our Premier line", but they wouldn't say "these are of our Premier line". I think you might be onto it. I'll play with it. +1 for now. – fixer1234 Jun 25 '17 at 6:18
  • 'Of' vs 'have' adds an intriguing new dimension to this discussion -- these problems are all OF the same complexity /all these problems have the same complexity // these persons are of varying intelligence / these persons have varying intelligence -- another very perceptive answer here makes the original question of @fixer1234 an excellent question! – English Student Jun 25 '17 at 16:28
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Is it just me, or is there a reason why that is the case?

I'm sure many of us have had the "odd" feeling.
When I was a lot younger, I heard an expression from some of my workmates that I though odd sounding:

We had a shower of rain a few minutes ago

I knew some of these fellows had grown up speaking English that did not have some influences that mine had. Beyond that, some of them might have had teachers who were born in the 19th Century.
And, "shower of rain" may have been a relic of an older genitive use that remained in their English. I would have said simply "we had a shower a few minutes ago".

After a bit of thought (years worth) I decided I should not think a way of expression "odd" or "unnatural" if I were unaccustomed to it.
English has not, after all, ever been a homogeneous language (to anyone's knowledge).

I believe I feel better about things since I have decided that some manner of expression I am not use to is just "different", not "odd" or "unnatural".

  • If I heard someone say it, I might think along these lines. My question was because I've never heard anyone say it, and I don't think anyone would. But I don't understand why not. – fixer1234 Jun 24 '17 at 23:33
  • Your answer makes excellent sense! I upvote. – English Student Jun 24 '17 at 23:33
  • @fixer 1234 the 'of' is outdated which us why it feels strange, you probably wouldnt encounter it in modern English but I have read it often enough in older books and it is still a formal (written) usage in Indian English: these cars are all of different colors // these books are of the same price. – English Student Jun 24 '17 at 23:35
  • @EnglishStudent, the "of" construction is still in common use, but it is only used with some words; it's never used with other words. I'm trying to understand the pattern. Have you seen Xs "are of different prices"? If the reason is that it's archaic for only certain words, the question becomes what is the pattern behind the words it is no longer used with. – fixer1234 Jun 24 '17 at 23:45
  • @fixer1234 The form 'of different prices' is indeed used in India: these leather items are of different prices -- the quality of the workmanship increases with the price // he was surprised to find that the very similar-looking watches were really of different prices. I think the 'of' used with a word like 'color' or 'price' indicates it's a property/attribute of something: shirts of similar color were displayed on the market racks,but were said to be of different material(s) // the football players were all of the same age,but of many different sizes -- it's very familiar usage! – English Student Jun 25 '17 at 0:55
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EditingFrank identified the key. It is the difference between being something (an inherent property), and having an assigned property. I'll expand on this.

Both be and of can be used to convey the concept of a characteristic or being part of a whole or group (see M-W Be and Of). So both words can be used to create sentences with similar meanings about the properties of things.

The issue relates to of and be of (including the different tenses and grammatical numbers of "be"). I'll explain it with examples, but the gist is this:

  • In the context of properties of things, be states a characteristic, inclusion, or equivalence, and it is irrelevant whether the property is inherent or assigned.

  • Of generally means having or belonging as an intrinsic characteristic. It can be used in some cases that are not intrinsic, like inclusion in a class. It is the non-intrinsic cases that underlie this question.

  • Combining be with of internalizes the characteristic; makes it a reference to something intrinsic, the nature of the thing. For inherent properties, that's already the case, so the word combination doesn't change anything. However, non-intrinsic properties don't always work with be of.

Properties of things

Properties can be either inherent or assigned. If they are inherent, they naturally fall under the definitions of both "be" and "of". If they are assigned, it isn't so simple with of and be of.

Inherent Properties

Let's start with a couple of examples of inherent properties.

  • age

My children are different ages.
I have children of different ages.
My children are of different ages.

  • size

Show me widgets of different sizes.
These widgets are different sizes.
These widgets are of different sizes.

You can do the same for other examples of inherent properties. It is common usage.

Assigned properties

Start with the example of a brand label. People might say:

"These are our Premier line." (equivalence)
"These are in our Premier line." or "These are from our Premier line." (simple inclusion)
"These are part of our Premier line." or "These are examples of our Premier line." (simple inclusion)

But they would not say:

"These are of our Premier line." (intrinsic inclusion)

Price was the property that triggered the question. Compare it to usage with inherent properties. I'll use shopping for a pen as an example. The salesperson might say:

This is a pen of exquisite quality. or
This is a pen of a new design.

But they would not say:

This is a pen of $1.27. or
This pen is of $1.27.

The price is not an inherent quality or a group or class, it's just an assigned value. However, there are a few exceptions.

Exceptions

You might use of to refer to inclusion in a category or group, even though it is an assigned property:

Show me pens of under $1.

Similarly, if you use price to differentiate or compare, you imply classification. So the salesperson might say:

We have pens of different prices.

Another case where of might be used with price is if price is being used as a proxy for an inherent characteristic or a group or class. Again shopping for a pen:

Customer: "Is there really a difference in quality between an expensive pen and a cheap one?"
Salesperson: "Here is a pen of $100. Notice the workmanship. Here's a pen of $1. Notice that it's a piece of crap."
Customer: "Yeah, I can see a big difference in quality."
Salesperson: "Well remember, they're pens of very different prices." or "Well remember, the pens are of very different prices.

Here price is used as a proxy for quality or class of pen.

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