If it's a correct, non-idiomatic usage, is "possessed" an adjective, or...?

What is "of" under that circumstance?

  • 3
    It would be ironic in the extreme if OP's statement wasn't actually grammatic, but of course it is. People are much more likely to be possessed of impeccable taste or manners, but I was surprised to find it's not a quaint "Victorianism" at all - it's a post-war expression – FumbleFingers Dec 7 '11 at 22:56
  • @FumbleFingers Oh, that's a very interesting tool--I like that. I'd be curious to see that graphed against the number of books available. – Dave Newton Dec 7 '11 at 23:17
  • BNC (British) and COCA (American) are more "selective, representative" searchable corpora, but I find Google's NGram more accessible - plus it does nice charts for getting a point across succinctly here on ELU. – FumbleFingers Dec 7 '11 at 23:39
  • @FumbleFingers Toys! And I didn't get you anything :( What fun; thanks. – Dave Newton Dec 7 '11 at 23:42
  • Apart from my two front teeth, all I want for Christmas is 25K on ELU :) – FumbleFingers Dec 7 '11 at 23:45

Possessed of as a unit is classified as an adjective meaning possessing, which Dictionary.com calls an idiom. Of is a preposition added in order to make the idiom. Compare it with I am possessed by impeccable grammar: this makes use of the normal meaning of possessed. Possessed is usually the past participle of possess (so it usually means owned). However, when you add the preposition of, possessed of no longer means owned, it means owning.

So I am possessed of impeccable grammar is interpreted I am possessing impeccable grammar (idiomatic interpretation), rather than I am owned by impeccable grammar (normal interpretation, overridden by the idiom).


"Possessed of" means "own" or "have". So "I am possessed of impeccable grammar" means "I have impeccable grammar".

  • Okay; thanks. I know what it means, just wanted it broken down. – Dave Newton Dec 7 '11 at 21:46

It sounds excessively formal but not wrong to me. Possessed is a past participle, or an adjective, if you prefer, and of is a preposition; if you want to classify phrases by part of speech, then I'd call possessed of a preposition, simply because it acts like one, but I'm not sure.


“To be possessed of” in the sense “to be in possession of” is listed in the OED, art. “possess” 9, with a fair number of citations ranging from 1440 to 2002. It is thus certainly not incorrect, perhaps no longer idiomatic, quite possibly (in a modern context) ironic.

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