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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New York City but not Seoul City

New York City but not Seoul City

When I was teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, students would often say "Seoul city". I found it unnecessary and would at times correct them because people who are aware of South Korea realize that Seoul is a major city in that country and there is no need to say the word city after Seoul.

In a brief discussion of why saying the word city is not required after Seoul, someone brought up the question, "Then why do people say 'New York City' all the time?"

That is because there is New York City and New York state. New York is a state like California, Texas, Alaska, Michigan, and Iowa are states. And there are forty four more states of course. States, like provinces, cantons and prefectures are subnational administrative units in a country. The United States is a federal state and the states like California have powerful governments with large budgets and regulate public institutions like education.

Then we got into a discussion of what do you call the people of these cities. A student showed irritation with the term Seoulite. I was little surprised at her response, I think the term Seoulite is a bit awkward too. Although I wasn't sure why Seoulite was used or where it came from.

Because New York is one of the most famous cities in the world, it is not usually necessary to say the word city, even in the first reference. You can, but omitting it means you will still be understood. Most people in the world are not aware of New York state so it is not a problem. Many people are aware of the Empire State Building, but few are aware New York state is called the Empire State.

Regarding countries, we know the major cities, but not the subdivided regions, the subnational administrative units. Few could name a canton in Switzerland, an oblast in Russia, or a prefecture in Japan. The subnational administrative units in-between cities and countries are far less known and get used much less. Many know Tuscany in Italy because of the city of Florence located there.

These kinds of questions create lessons and class discussions that are completely unplanned but very enjoyable because both teachers and students learn something new. When you teach English around the world, students have questions and opinions you have never heard or considered before and you try to answer the best you can. They want to know why things are done a certain way in English and sometimes you cannot answer as thoroughly as you want because you just do not know. Language is culture and culture is not logical and consistent.

Then we got onto a discussion what people in various cities are called. People from New York? New Yorkers of course, perhaps because it is short and easily rolls off the lips it stuck.

Singapore is a country that is a city, what is called a city state. The Vatican, where the pope lives is another city state, but we don't say Vaticaners. Exactly why they have no name here, despite the frequent regarding the country, is another exception in English.

The following lists exclude most cities of the world with the best known terms for its residents.


Send comments to bengriffin85@hotmail.com


The first list of what to call people from some cities is from antiquity-ancient history. The cities of Rome and Athens are still in existence.

Interestingly, the word Sparta can be used as an adjective. "He lived a spartan life". The word may be capitalised, depending on your preference. The word spartan here means austere or basic. Life in the armed forces is very spartan. Sparta was military city in Attica that eventually vanished. Rome and Athens are still around today of course but the other four cities are not.


Rome - Romans
Athens - Athenians
Sparta - Spartans
Carthage - Carthaginians
Corinth - Corinthians
Babylon - Babylonians


Commonly used modern terms for cities and their residents.

Berlin - Berliners
Dublin - Dubliners
Florence - Florentines
London - Londoners
New York - New Yorkers
Paris - Parisians
Singapore - Singaporeans
Venice - Venetians


These terms are used less.

Beijing - Beijingers
Calgary - Calgarians
Cairo - Cairenes
Edmonton - Edmontonians
Halifax - Haligonians
Hong Kong - Hong Kongers
Liverpool - Liverpuddlians
Los Angeles - Los Angelenos
Montreal - Montrealers
Moscow - Moscovites
Seoul - Seoulites
Sydney - Sydneysiders
Tokyo - Tokyoites
Toronto - Torontonians
Winnipeg - Winnipeggers
Vancouver - Vancouverites
Vienna - Viennese


This is a separate list of cities named after a state, a province, a country or a geographic landmark like a lake.

Kansas City (after the US state)
Luxembourg City (named after the country)
Mexico City (named after the country)
New York City (named after the US state)
Oklahoma City (named after the US state)
Panama City (named after the country)
Quebec City (named after the Canadian province)
Salt Lake City (named after a geographic landmark, the Great Salt Lake)


Send comments to bengriffin85@hotmail.com