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As far as I understand, we can definitely say the phrase "the city of + name":

  • when a city and a state have the same name, e.g.: "the city of New York" (or "New York City") and "the state of New York" (or "New York State").
  • when "the city of + name" doesn't always mean the same as the name itself, e.g.: "the city of London" can mean not only the whole of London but (for some historical reasons) just the county in the very center of London.

Also there are the cities that don't have the properties described above but which (perhaps for some other reason) can still be called via the phrase "the city of + name". For example, Chicago on wikipedia.org is sometimes mentioned as "the city of Chicago".

So I'm interested to know:
Can we use the phrase "the city of + name" to any city in the world at all?
If not, then is there any rule about it?

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  • Closely related ell.stackexchange.com/questions/95803/…
    – James K
    Commented Feb 1 at 7:18
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    Spoken English doesn't do a good job of distinguishing between "city of London" (a reference to London) and "City of London" (the official name of the central county).
    – chepner
    Commented Feb 1 at 15:16
  • Not necessarily, the city and state thing. City of x can be formal and/or administrative.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 1 at 15:49
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    The City of London is a singular and unique exception, as far as I'm aware. In all other cases, "The city of [city name]" just means "[city name]". Commented Feb 1 at 18:28
  • @GlennWillen Well, along the lines of Lambie's comment, just about any city or town might have outlying areas that could "count" as part of it informally (the city of X, lowercase "c") and not formally (the City of X). Commented Feb 1 at 18:46

6 Answers 6

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You probably can say "The city of..." in all cases where it doesn't have a particular distinct meaning (such as London). But it would sound a little awkward when an article is part of the city name: "The city of The Hague" or when "City" is part of the name "The city of Atlantic City" , but an internet search shows that these too have plenty of use.

So, you can use "the city of" with any city name.

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    I found this written instance in Google Books: Since 1929, the State of the City of the Vatican City and the Holy See achieved general recognition as two distinct legal persons, in practice and in the literature. Ye Gods! :) Commented Feb 1 at 14:39
  • ‘The city of Atlantic City’ does sound quite awkward to me too, but I don’t think there’s anything off about ‘the city of The Hague’. And of course, in some cases, the awkward ‘city of City’ can be unavoidable – for example, if discussing local politics in mid-20th century Mexico, you may need to disambiguate whether you’re talking about the city of Mexico City or the administrative unit of Mexico City. Commented Feb 2 at 11:17
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    Police cars and other official vehicles in Iowa City, Iowa, used to have “City of Iowa City, Iowa” painted on the doors. At some point, they realized that was silly. Commented Feb 2 at 18:46
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In general, yes. "The city of _____" is a natural way to refer to any city worldwide, unless someone comes along with a counterexample I haven't thought of.

Even cities with "City" in their name can be redundantly referred to as "the city of _____ City" without any fuss, though choosing to avoid it is also valid.

However, I would advise against dropping the "City" from the end like you've done with New York. That is its official name and is readily understood, but most other cases don't work that way (who the heck is City of Kansas? Wait, that was actually its original name? Why?). In common parlance, if the name is _____ City and the name is shared with another entity, it should stay in its familiar form to be understood.

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    @Loviii "the city of New York City" is not common and there would seldom be a reason to use it, although it would not be wrong. "The state of New York State" in contrast sounds like you're using state the first time to mean "condition"; "New York State" on its own would refer unambiguously to the state. For this reason, if you wanted to emphasise you were talking about the state government of New York it might be better to explicitly say "the state government of New York State", although many people would use a figure of speech such as "Albany" for the state government.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 1 at 10:53
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    Even the various government agencies within NYC refer to NYC as "The City of New York", such as on my paycheck. I don't believe that the corporate (or official) name of NYC is "New York City"; it's either "New York" or "The City of New York" (and probably the latter), but common usage when it's needed to distinguish the city from the state is any of "New York City", "the city of New York", or just the initialism "NYC". Commented Feb 1 at 11:35
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    @JeffZeitlin Right, it works for New York. You just can't count on that being the case for other cities, even if it's their official name. Commented Feb 1 at 17:11
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    @the-baby-is-you - and I believe that the official name of the state is "the State of New York"; most of the US states include "State" (or in a few cases, "Commonwealth") as part of their official/corporate name. Trivia: Until recently, the name of the smallest state was the longest of any state: "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations". A few years ago, they officially dropped the "and Providence Plantations". Commented Feb 1 at 18:15
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    For those who are actually curious: Kansas the state is named for Kansas the city, which is in Missouri (yes, there is a Kansas City, Kansas, right across the river in fact, but "the" Kansas City is the one in Missouri)
    – No Name
    Commented Feb 2 at 9:34
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Sometimes "the city of ___" is used in spoken conversation to disambiguate between an incorporated city and a part of a city, or between the incorporated city proper and the vague metropolitan area around the city.

For example, consider Houston, which has multiple controlled-access highways that divide the city roughly into north, south, east, and west areas of the city. Someone might say "I live in west Houston," and a person hearing this statement would know the general area where the other person lives. There is no nearby city called West Houston, so this works.

This phrasing doesn't work with the southern part of the city, because nearby there is an incorporated city called South Houston. If a person says, "I live in south Houston," we can't tell from hearing this statement whether they are talking about the South Houston the city or just the southern part of Houston. So, people might say "the city of South Houston" vs. "southern Houston." This distinction is needed only in spoken conversations, because in written text one can use capitalization to distinguish them, as "South Houston" (the city) vs. "south Houston" (the part of Houston).

Likewise, if we want to refer specifically to the area within the incorporated city limits, vs. the general metropolitan area, we might use either "the city of Austin" or "Austin proper" to indicate that, vs. just "Austin" which usually refers to the area within Austin city limits plus all of the incorporated towns and unincorporated areas nearby. People often say "I live in Austin" when they really live in one of those nearby other cities like Round Rock or Cedar Park.

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    This is the same with the City of London, which is a tiny administrative area of central London, not the entire city (Greater London). It could be very confusing if somebody said "I live in the city of London", but they actually live in London, not The City.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Feb 2 at 16:42
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Yes, and no.

Some municipalities aren't cities. There are also townships, villages, boroughs, and towns.

One more thing. I live in California. There's a city near San Diego and when you drive by on the freeway, the signs read "National City". Its legal name is "City of National City". For cases like this, you wouldn't likely ever say "City of National City City", "city of City of National City", or "National City City", as your question proposes, without others looking at you quite strangely.

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    There's also San Francisco, which is consolidated and officially "The City and County of San Francisco". Of course no one would say that in everyday speech, but you don't usually hear "the city of San Francisco" either.
    – josh3736
    Commented Feb 3 at 1:52
  • We mostly just call it "the City" and leave it at that. Commented Feb 3 at 17:55
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    California also has a "City of Industry" and "City of Commerce", although only the first one has the "City of" part in its official name.
    – The Photon
    Commented Feb 3 at 18:06
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As another usage, at least in American English, "the City of X" can refer specifically to the city government as an organization or legal entity.

For instance, if you were to say "I work for the City of Denver", I would understand that you were an employee of the Denver city government: perhaps a water engineer, or a tax collector, or a park groundskeeper, etc. But if you said "I work for Denver", I would think that that you were employed by some person or private company named Denver, or that you meant to say "I work in Denver".

If you said "I just received a letter from Denver", I'd assume it was a letter from a person who happens to live in Denver. If you say "I just received a letter from the City of Denver", I'd understand it was some sort of official government notice, like a tax bill or a parking ticket.

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  • You know John Denver? ;)
    – mplungjan
    Commented Feb 4 at 6:51
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    @mplungjan: In which case I'd ask how he was managing to send you letters from beyond the grave. Commented Feb 5 at 3:55
  • Or just the postal service
    – mplungjan
    Commented Feb 5 at 7:16
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From the POV of British English, I'd echo what others have said about "The City of London", "New York City" and so on.

However I'd caution against over-applying "city" to locations which are styled as such simply by being the seat of a clerical diocese (St Asaph) or because despite negligible population they are legally incorporated as such (Point Arena, Ca).

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