Of all, in all, or in ?
What are the differences between of all, in all, and in in the example:
Of all the sports in which he participated, he likes tennis less.
Can of all be replaced with in all or
in? Then why?
Posted 30 August 2002
In your sentence:
Of all the sports in which he participated, he likes tennis the less.
of all is correct.
in your sentence should end with the least. Less
is used in a comparative sentence, but the least is
used is superlative sentences, like yours.
Next, Michael Swan (Practical English Usage, Second Edition,
Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 124) gives this explanation for
After superlatives, we do not usually use of with
a singular word referring to a place or group.
I’m the happiest man in the world (NOT of the
She’s the fastest player in
the team (NOT of the team) [But it could also be "on
the team" ?Grammar Exchange's addition]
But of can be
used before plurals, and before singular quantifiers like lot and bunch.
She’s the fastest player of them
He’s the best of the lot.
Your sentence can also
He likes tennis the least of all the sports in which he participated.
Because “sports?is a plural count noun, of is the
correct preposition to use.
The choice between of and in
depends on whether the two relevant nouns are of the same category when
they occur in a comparative structure.
1. Of all the sports in which
he participated, he likes tennis less.
2. I am the happiest man IN the world.
3. She is the fastest player IN the team.
4. She is the fastest player of them all.
5. He is the best of the lot.
S1: Tennis is a sport.
S2: A man is not the world.
S3: A player is not the team.
S4: She is a player; they are players too.
My version of explanation does
not apply to sentences such as S5.
Two more simple examples:
6. Of all the students, he is the tallest.
7. He is the tallest student in his class.
I believe that the preposition is relevant to the noun that
follows it. Thus, in S1, of matches “sports,?
a plural count noun. In S2, the noun is “world,?a singular count noun,
and in is most often used with singular nouns (although
with “world,?of could be used, a bit more poetically). In S3, “team?
is usually singular, and in or on goes
with singular nouns. In S4, “them?is plural, and requires of.
In 6, “students?is plural, so of is the most often used,?
and in 7, “class?is singular, and so would usually be preceded by in.
While I agree that the preposition
is relevant to the noun that follows it, the principle of plural
count nouns going with of and singular count nouns
going with in with respect to the question under discussion
might not apply to many sentences. There are also occasions when the
preposition is relevant to the noun that precedes it.
Here are some sentences involving plural count nouns and non-count
- This was greedily caught up by both the political
parties, who were at once struggling for power and for popular
favour, and who
as usual, upon the most private circumstances in the lives
of each other's partisans to convert them into subjects of political
- While Mr Quilp, in his uproarious
hospitality, seated himself upon an empty beer-barrel, vaunted
the place as the most beautiful and comfortable in the three kingdoms,
his glass, drank to their next merry-meeting in that jovial
spot. (kingdoms: plural)
- The plan of Hawkeye is the
one which has always proved the most successful in the battles
between the whites and the Indians.(battles: plural)
- This tree is one of the
most valuable in the islands of the south. (islands: plural)
- He was
a sturdy and loyal Christian, and believed he was the best
one in the land. (land: usually
- To the north of the town,
on a knoll, stood a large red brick house trimmed with
white veranda and balconies - far and away the most pretentious house
- His plowshares are the best
in the Punjab. (Punjab: proper noun)
Not all the above sentences bear
the same sentence structures as the sentences discussed in the previous
posts, but they will confuse
of English just as those previously discussed sentences do.
With respect to the question under discussion, so far as the concurrence
of of and the superlatives is concerned, such
concurrence deserves further study (and more than one post) because
it is far
complicated than the concurrence of in and the
superlatives. I will not enter into details here presently because
I have not found
all its significant usage patterns yet.
To understand the complicatedness of the concurrence of of and
the superlatives, interested readers may take a close look at
the possessive and partitive meanings of of, which
may concur with the superlatives and cannot be replaced with in (in might
suggest a sense of location instead):
- Instead, he reloaded his
revolver very carefully, and then sat in the best room
of the cottage by the derelict brickfield, looking
and perplexed, and listening to talk about Bill and his
ways, and thinking, thinking. (possessive)
- Some few of the best known
adventures of the hero are told, though with little accuracy. (possessive)
is the most beautiful part of the whole invention. (partitive)
the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were here two years ago they said
this was the most
of the house. (partitive)
Sometimes, the use of of is
obligatory because of the preceding noun or verb which exerts
its governing control, so
over the of:
- And, indeed, as regards the working
of the speculative faculty in the creation of history, it
is in all respects marvellous
how that the most
truthful accounts of the passage from barbarism to civilisation
in ancient literature come from the works of poets. (We usually
say "(give) an
account of something.")
- Having resolved, from the
beginning, to make the best of the worst, it might almost be
said that they were supported and consoled in their
good intentions by a higher
power. (We usually say "make the most (best, worst) (use) of
a phrase derived from "make use of.")
Or because of temporal expressions
like "of the day (decade, year,
- It was the most stunning surprise of the decade.
because they were so many, and all feverishly fighting to get the
same things at
the same time, they were all excited, happy and
at ease. It was the most momentous
period of the year: the height of the "dress makers' season."
was the most important capture of the day, and used with all
On the other hand, in may not
be the only preposition available for the sense of location. On might
be more desirable on certain occasions if one is thinking
of a surface
of the state of being inside something:
- His farm was one of
the best on the banks of the Neshaminy, and he also
enjoyed the annual interest of a few thousand dollars, carefully
by mortgages on real estate.
There are still other occasions
when of is
obligatory or some other preposition might be used
instead of in.
Chuncan Feng has produced a marvelous study. Bravo!
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