• He is a giant of a man.

  • He is a giant.

  • He is a giant man.

What's the difference in meaning between the three sentences written above?

  • There's also, "He is giant". – T.E.D. Jun 11 '14 at 14:29

He is a giant of a man Is an example of phrases of the form "he is a X of a Y". They mean that, whatever qualities exemplify Y, are possessed by him to the degree to which X relates to Y. In this case, a giant relates to a man by being bigger. So whatever qualities define a man, he has more of them than most people. to be any more specific depends on the context. For instance, the sentence "A true man is honourable, and he was a giant of a man" would mean that he was exceptionally honourable. You can also replace X with an animal/object that is culturally identified with a specific attribute - for instance, lions are considered to be brave, so to say "he was a lion of a man" is usually taken to say that he was brave to the degree that a lion is braver than a man. In this case, the link lion = brave is not necessarily explicitly stated by the author, but implied by shared cultural heritage.

He is a giant Means that he is, literally, a giant. To confuse things a little though, the first formulation can be rephrased this was as well. Again, this depends on the context, for instance "Cyclops was a giant" means he was literally a giant, while "Einstein was a giant" implies " of a man".

He is a giant man Is using giant as an adjective, where it means "of very great size or force; gigantic". So, he is a man of great size.

To summarize:

In the first case, giant refers to a collection of attributes, i.e. "what is a giant?"

In the second case, it either refers to a literal creature, or is a contraction of the first case.

In the third case, the word giant is an ordinary adjective, like big or green.

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They all mean essentially the same thing and it comes down to the style you are writing in. But there are minor differences which I will explain:

  • He is a giant of a man Means that he a huge person, usually very tall and broad at the same time. I would not use it for someone who is incredibly overweight or skinny and tall.

  • He is a giant This could literally mean that he fits the definition of 'giant'. More likely, though, it just means he is very tall. If used to describe someone who is very overweight, I would say that it is incorrect.

  • He is a giant man Sounds a bit strange but means essentially the same as one of the first two depending on the context.

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  • 1
    I would definitely say that Napoleon was a giant of a man, although of course he was only 5' tall... – Benubird Jun 12 '14 at 9:12

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