Meanings of “Of Course”

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader asks about the placement of the phrase, “of course”:

Please discuss which of the following is correct:

“Of course, the photography was superb.”
“The photography was, of course, superb.”
“The photography was superb, of course.”

Short answer: They are all correct.

Although In some contexts, the placement of an adverb or adverbial phrase can affect meaning, position in these sentences does not affect meaning.In each of the examples, the meaning of “of course” is “as could be expected.” I suppose that context and tone of voice could suggest some other meanings, but as written, the sentences convey the same thought.

Of course is used in all sorts of contexts. I’d be willing to bet that of course runs a close second to OK in its frequency and ubiquity in American speech.The useful site frazit sometimes brings up as few as three examples of a word or phrase I’m looking for, but of course garners 147,785 examples of current usage.

One meaning of of course is “according to procedure.”

Once the thief was arrested, he was arraigned as a matter of course.

Of course is commonly used to introduce an action or thought that is “customary; natural, to be expected,”: Of course we say the pledge before taking our seats.

It can mean, “normal, obvious, well known”: The altar was placed at the east end of the church because, of course, the sun rises in the east.

It’s often used as an emphatic way of reply.

May I have another piece of chicken? Of course!
Will you sell me your grandchild? Of course not!

Finally, of course is used as an expletive uttered at a moment of discovery.

“Of course! The doctor is the killer!

These are the standard dictionary definitions of of course. However, as I browsed thousands of examples, I’ve concluded that there are several nonstandard definitions that can be attached to this ubiquitous throw-away phrase.

considering the circumstances
Of course, I am very happy to be employed in an age when so many people are not.

I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek
You, of course, are a law-abiding citizen who would never dream of such a thing.

in my opinion
It is, of course, best served with salad and some hot, fresh, hatchapouri bread. 
Of course people are going to take the money and spend it on unnecessary things.

I’m hedging my bets
Of course, whether it can compete toe-to-toe in the long run remains to be seen.

including
Saturday’s concert will also feature crafts, face painting and of course snacks.  
We had planned to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios and, of course, the beach.

I’m being sarcastic
That, of course, was a very convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler.
Of course, don’t mention the fact that the US CIA is drone bombing this country. 
Of course, because you and the five that agreed with you say so it must be true.
Of course, his kids would never be caught dead inside a public school classroom
Of course, the White House denied it had any advance knowledge of the complaint.

Apart from any of its meanings, of course operates as a verbal tic, thrown in as a means of repulsing censure or inviting agreement.

Of course, you don’t have to agree.

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3 Responses to “Meanings of “Of Course””

  • Michael Tardie

    You mentioned frazit as a useful site, but I can’t seem to find anything that would be useful for English language aficionados. Can you please provide a link?

  • Isaac Ge

    Of course.

  • Maeve

    Michael Tardie,
    I go to https://fraze.it/. The search box is set for English when it comes up and I type a word or words into it. Depending upon what it is, a few or many examples come up.

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