I've just stumbled on this sentence What colour eyes does she have? in my grammar book. What got me interested in this is the combination of the words colour, eyes with what and without any prepositions.

I just assume a construction like this is possible with some particular words such as colour, form, shape, size and so on. These words have ranges or multiple possibilities.

Let me try this out.

What size sofa did you buy?

Since I think it's similar to what kind of car do you have construction, I don't have to use an article before sofa or do I?

What shape pancakes does the shop sell?

Are these 2 correct / possible? They make sense?

Any thoughts on this? Am I even right or it's just an insane theory? haha

UPDATE: Ok I can conclude people have different takes on this. So I want to ask you guys a couple of more things that will help me to understand this point better

1) If I always use "of" in such cases, will it always be correct?

2) What do we do with an article if we have a singular noun? optional or needed? From what I gather if we have "of" we need or opt for an article. If we don't we have to drop it. Is it like this? These below are just examples but I'm asking about a general idea for this kind of sentences
What size (a) sofa did you buy?
What shape of (a) pancake did she buy?

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    As a native speaker, "what size sofa?" is fine, but I'd say "what shape of pancakes?" Same for "what breed of dog does he own?" I haven't spent that long thinking about it, but off the top of my head I can't come up with any rule for when you need the "of". You certainly don't need the "of" for color, size, length, height, weight. Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:03
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    @Peter I'd say it's different in the UK. I'd not expect anything beyond 'What colour ...' and 'What size ..' to be used without an 'of'. Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:18
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    @EdwinAshworth What size shoes are those? doesn’t sound so bad, but What *brand shoes are those? certainly does.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:31
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    @David: I think you may have put your finger on it (or at least, a relevant factor). My "coarseness" example fails because I also can't say "The sandpaper is coarseness X". But since I can say things like "The children are all age[d] seven or older", I find I can also ask "What age children do you teach?". The matter of whether it should be age or aged is intriguing there, though. I can't actually enunciate the /d/ in the question form, but I've no idea whether whether my "inner grammarian" wants it there or not. As with "I use[d] to trust my instincts", I'm "ambivalent". Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 14:01
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    Using 'of' will probably never be ungrammatical, but may well sound a little unusual with some nouns. The first noun does not control choice in all situations, either: I'd usually say 'What size shirt do you wear?' but 'What size of earthquakes can be caused by fracking?' Perhaps there's a formality issue. I'd check eg 'What colour eyes does she have?' v 'What colour of eyes does she have?' in Google searches to see which seems more common, until one begins to sound correct. // Omitting 'a' seems far more common. Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


I believe this to be a case of inversion of an accepted alternate form. In other words: many times questions are formed by inversions of statements and this is an inversion.

What color[ed] eyes did she have?

Inverts (more or less):

She had blue colored eyes.

There is a tendency in spoken language to swallow the -ed at the end of a word. And, this tends to find its way into the written form. Hence color vs. colored.

When you consider this a truncation of the -ed, you will see that a preposition is no longer necessary because it is an adjective being used as an adverb.

Consider another case:

What size shoes do you wear?
I wear size 7 shoes.

Most people don't say sized 7 shoes. So, this form stays intact in the question. And, you'd never say size 7 of shoes. So, you would be unlikely to use the form:

What size of shoes do you wear?

It just sounds awkward (at least to a speaker of AmE).

As, FumbleFingers rightly states in comments above: much of this is related to your "inner grammarian".

  • This doesn't work for "What age children do you teach"? You can't say "I teach age 6 children." Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 14:51
  • @PeterShor I've heard people say just that. Or the related "I teach children age[d] 6." It always sounds awkward to my ear, but I do hear people say it.
    – David M
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 14:53
  • @DavidM Ok I can conclude that I can't just use "of" all the time to put a sentence right? What about the use of an article with singular nouns in, let's say, What size (a) sofa did you buy? What colour of (a) car does he have? needed or optional?
    – Dunno
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 15:08
  • @Dunno I would say for the first one: no a, definitely doesn't work. The second is awkward but (I believe) grammatical. Better to leave out the of a.
    – David M
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 15:54
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    @dunno The update has the same (a) sofa. It is definitely wrong there. If you use a you need of in front of it. Otherwise it makes my skin crawl.
    – David M
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 13:05

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