Usually, while watching some videos/movies or reading books in English, I tend to see that people always adding the word "City" to New York(New York City).

What's behind this stuff in English? I can only guess that it's used just to distinguish state and City itself. However, in some other languages(e.g. Ukrainian), usually people don't use "City" after NY. They would assume that the person is talking about the city already. If you want to talk about state, you can mention that.

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    London is another interesting example because most often when people say "London" the don't mean the "City of London". Most of the time when you're in London you are not in the City of London. The City of London is just a small part of London and is generally where the business district is. Unlike London, the City of London have very weird election rules because only recognised Guilds can vote (or appoint people to vote)
    – slebetman
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 9:42
  • And then there is New York County. Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 18:21
  • @slebetman: it's not just Guilds; residents of the City can also vote - as can representatives of companies (link). Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 14:10
  • @slebetman: There are also two cities in Greater London the City of London and the City of Westminister. Both places have the Letters of Patent issued by the Crown need to endow city status on a place. This is though a very particularly British definition of a city.
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 16:49
  • @Sarriesfan: the City of London wasn't granted city status by Letters Patent; it's been a city since time immemorial (defined here, and listed here). Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 11:39

3 Answers 3


Your assumption is correct—it's to distinguish between the city and the state.

Idiomatically, it's simply the case that the phrase New York city (or the proper noun New York City) was picked as the more common "identifier" over than the phrase New York state (or the proper noun New York State).

(Having said that, I have heard people refer to New York State—but not as often.)

I can't tell you why this would have been the case originally, simply that it ended up that way and we continue to use it.


Per the Wikipedia entry for the history of the city of New York the timeline of its names is as follows:

1524: New Angoulême
1664: New York
1898: City of New York

And per the main entry for the city of New York:

The City of New York, often called New York City (NYC) or simply New York, is the most populous city in the United States.

Also per the Wikipedia entry for the state of New York:

1664: Province of New York
1776: New York


To differentiate the state from the city with the same name, it is sometimes called New York State.

But, strictly speaking, the city is named City of New York and the state is named New York.

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    When people know the context, they don't bother with city. When it's not clear, they clarify it. The same goes for New York state. One might be discussing, say, taxes, and it might not be clear whether they are referring to New York state taxes or New York City taxes. Officially, the name is NYC, New York City or City of New York. Caps are preferred.....But your answer is generally correct.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 17:35
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    In my experience, for residents of the Acela corridor (i.e. the DC to Boston chain of cities), New York refers to the city while New York State refers to the state. If someone tells me they are going to New York, they don't mean Buffalo or Albany.
    – kingledion
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 18:17
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    For other cities and states with the same name, it’s common to specify the city rather than the state, too (e.g. Oklahoma City but not Oklahoma State, unless you’re referring to the university.)
    – bogardpd
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 18:32
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    I tried to edit this question but I ended up rolling it back. That said, please fix your second paragraph, as I think it's currently misleading to learners. The city's name is New York City (with a capital C, as @Lambie correctly points out). You can say, "New York refers to the city", or "New York City refers to the city," but saying "New York city is the phrase that was picked as the more common identifier" seems to make things more confusing, not less confusing.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 20:08
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    @Lambie "Update New York" refers to (almost) everything north of the city for some people outside of the city as well. I grew up along the southern border with Pennsylvania, a few hundred miles/km northwest of NYC, and in that area we also consider ourselves part of upstate New York. I believe that's a regional variation.
    – David Z
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 23:27

While watching some videos/movies or reading books in English, I tend to see that people always adding the word "city" to New York (New York City).

What's behind this stuff in English?

Adding the word "city" is not "stuff in English".

The name of the city is New York City. Quite often, though – perhaps because it happens to be one of the biggest and most famous cities in the world – this is shortened to New York.

To make matters a little bit more confusing, New York City happens to be in the state of New York, so, when someone says, "I drove through New York last month," that could mean a person drove across the state, or it could mean they drove through the city. But all ambiguity could be eliminated if they say, "I drove through New York City last month," or "I drove through New York state last month."

This is more a quirk of geographic names than it is a quirk of English. There is a town called Nebraska City in the state of Nebraska, but no one shortens that to Nebraska. When they say "Nebraska," they mean the state, and when they refer to the city, they call it "Nebraska City." The same is true for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I have never heard anyone from Traverse City, Michigan refer to the city as "Traverse" (although I have heard it affectionately called "TC" by locals.) And, for the most part, no one calls Seattle, "Seattle City", or refers to Miami as "Miami City" (although you might read or hear "the city of Seattle" from time to time).

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    On the other hand, there's a town called Oregon in Missouri, and that's just confusing. Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 21:21
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    And of course we have Kansas City, which is mostly in Missouri...
    – jcaron
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 22:26
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    As a note - "city of Seattle" is only used to differentiate it from the greater Seattle area which is not officially called Seattle. But if the "city of seattle" were located in a hypothetical state of "Seattle", the city itself would probably be named Seattle City or something similar. Postfix v.s. prefix.
    – Knetic
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 0:49
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    Something else that adds to the confusion is that the USPS not only recognizes, but actually prefers, New York, NY over New York City, NY. In fact, they go so far as to say that New York City, NY is a city name to avoid. See here and test it out with an NYC zip code (e.g. 10004).
    – mathewb
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 0:54
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    Another example where the name is just not enough is of course Washington State and Washington, D.C.
    – Nassbirne
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 12:29

If I tell people that my wife and her family are from New York, they frequently assume I'm talking about New York City (NYC). Only I'm not, I'm talking about a place that's 5 and half to six hours away by car. It's fairly important to say whether you mean NYC or New York State because the city comes to mind first for most Americans, not the state -- which is logical -- since 8 1/2 million people live there, making it the most populous city by far in the States. Far fewer people have been to what is commonly referred to by New York City inhabitants as "Upstate New York" or just "Upstate". This area is generally any area not New York City, as New York City itself sits on the southernmost latitude of the state in line with the state of Pennsylvania. Those people that do visit upstate generally only visit the Niagara Falls in Buffalo on the other side of the state, or visit the Adirondacks to the north.

  • I agree with you. But I lived smack in the middle of it, and never said upstate New York unless I was going somewhere north of the Catskills. Not, for instance, if I was going up the Hudson Valley to, say, Tarrytown. I think there is a social status aspect to this as well. For many people, anything beyond the boroughs is another "country", except Long Island.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 15:16
  • I have two buddies from NYC from my time in the Army, they both referred to upstate this way, but then maybe not all the boroughs are the same. One was from Brooklyn, and I think the other was from Queens. Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 16:20
  • By this way, you mean anything north of the city, right? Sorry, I can't tell what you meant.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 16:23
  • Ah, that's the rub. Yeah, I meant north of the city. Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 23:17
  • @AdamR.Turner Were your friends Captain America and Spiderman? Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 6:43

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