I know there should be no "of" before "the size", but I don't understand why. Could you explain it to me in grammar terms?

Just one of these bombs could annihilate a city the size of New York.

(from here)


4 Answers 4


Good question. This is a very particular construction consisting of two noun phrases, where the second part is a noun phrase serving as modifier within the larger noun phrase. The second part describes some property, like size, shape, or color. CGEL p. 446 gives the examples:

  • a man my age, shoes this size, the results last year, houses this side of the lake

On p. 357 it is noted that the order of the parts is sometimes reversed: mainly in questions (What size hat do you take?) and also sometimes with demonstratives (They don't stock that size shoes as an alternative to They don't stock shoes that size). In CGEL's terminology, here the property noun phrase is filling the determiner function of the larger noun phrase.


You'd use 'of' in the way you suggest if you were indicating a more general quality, such as belonging to a group or having a shared quality.

For example, if you said...

  • A city of New York's size.

... you could still be talking about New York with reference to its own size - a quality that it might share with other cities. It is similar to saying "a man of your experience", which could still allude to a specific man (you) but with a level of experience that others might share.

The very reverse is true with your example. It draws a direct comparison between the size of 'a city' (any particular city) and the specific size of a specific city, New York. That is why the definite article introduces 'the size of New York City'.


I think that this is an interesting and difficult question, and I’m sorry that it did not get more respect here. I’d like to give you a good answer, but unfortunately, I don’t really know the answer. So, I’ll tell you what I can.

The word “of” is a preposition, and prepositions seem peculiarly hard to account for. My little exposure to various languages suggests that it’s very common for a preposition in one language to be translated inconsistently into a second language, as when someone translating English into Spanish will sometimes choose “por” and sometimes choose “para” for the English word “for,” although the uses of “for” seemed alike to the English author. And comparable constructions in one language will not have the same need for prepositions, as when we “look for shelter” with a preposition but “seek shelter” with no preposition at all.

As to this example, the “of” that might be used in “of the size,” I think that including it (a city of the size of New York) seems more logical than writing two consecutive nouns (a city the size of New York). But the familiarity of the shorter form makes it easy to understand despite the missing preposition. I think that the following phrases are grammatically comparable to yours (noun 1 of the noun 2 of noun 3, perhaps with another preposition in place of the first "of"), and that support for the first “of” would start strong and dwindle as one advances down the list. We seem to strengthen the case for that first “of” where noun 2 is unusual or preceded by an adjective.

  • a man of the erudition of Charles Van Doren
  • a book of the complexity of The Sound And The Fury
  • a city with the strategic value of New York
  • a city with the cultural importance of New York
  • a material with the value (strength, durability) of silver
  • a car of the color of egg yolks
  • a microphone of the size of a cigarette lighter
  • a car of the size (color, length, height) of a hippo.

So, I would say that in your original expression (a city of the size of New York), lots of native speakers would omit the first “of” because we would make the intuitive judgment that this expression is so simple and common that the shorter form would be easier to understand.

  • The erudition of Charles Van Doren? Is that sarcasm? Van Doren was an educated man, but he is famous for being slipped the answers... Mar 30, 2022 at 20:49
  • @Michael Lorton I know! You'd never have expected cheating from someone of the erudition of Charles Van Doren!
    – Chaim
    Mar 31, 2022 at 19:38

I wonder if your mother tongue has a structure in which something similar to the English "of" is allowed there. I can explain it to you like this:

a city the size of New York = a city which is the size of New York.

Now that you know "which is" has been omitted there, you can try translating it into your mother tongue. I think now you will see why there is no "of" there.

I hope that helped.

  • What about 'a city of New York's size'?
    – Astralbee
    Mar 30, 2022 at 11:29
  • 1
    Yes, "a city of New York's size" is correct. We can even say: "a city of this size" if New York has already been mentioned. Mar 30, 2022 at 11:39

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