“Was of Libyan descent?”

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.

Answer

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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