A friend brought me this sentence:

"My mother was a viola player in an orchestra."

They asked whether "in" could be replaced with "of" in this sentence. It sounds wrong to me, but I'm having a hard time explaining why. They also compared it to being a member of a baseball team, so why can of not be used in this case?

The only way I can think to change the sentence to use "of" is: "My mother was the viola player of the orchestra," but the nuance is still difficult for me to explain.

Can anyone help explain why it's wrong?

Last edited by akcpenguin
Original Post

Hello, akcpenguin, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

Both

My mother was a viola player in an orchestra

and

My mother was the viola player of the orchestra

are correct.

The difference is, just as you seem to have guessed, that "in" ("on" with other nouns, for example "team") is correct when the member has an indefinite article while "of" can be used when the member has a definite article:

- My mother was a viola player in an orchestra. (Perhaps there were others.)

- My mother was the viola player of the orchestra. (She was the only one.)

akcpenguin posted:

"My mother was a viola player in an orchestra."

They asked whether "in" could be replaced with "of" in this sentence.

Hello, akcpenguin, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

To add a little to Gustavo's response, with which I completely agree, I think it is worth noting that an "of"-phrase after "player," at least where musical instruments are concerned, tends to indicate what it is that the player plays. Indeed, a viola player is a player of the viola.

Here are a couple of other natural ways to express the idea:

  • My mother was a violist in an orchestra.
  • My mother played the viola in an orchestra.

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