What is the grammar of the English words "size", "age", etc?

According to Quirk (1985:1293)

Some noun phrases of measure, denoting size, age, etc, can also be postposed:
A man the size of a giant came up to me.
Somebody her age shouldn't do such exercises

According to A Functional Analysis of Present Day English on a General Linguistic Basis (2013:92), such usages are attributive appositions.

Also "plain NP minor determiners" in Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, page 355

  • That text calls the size of a giant an "attributive apposition"?
    – TRomano
    Mar 3, 2019 at 11:32
  • 2
    So… what is your actual question here? I think there might be a very good question in this, but “what is the grammar of these words?” is much too broad – you need to specify what exactly it is you’re wondering about that Quirk and Functional Analysis did not answer for you. Mar 3, 2019 at 11:32
  • @TRomano Are "A car as big as a house" and "A man as old as the hills" also attributive appositions or are they something else?
    – BoldBen
    Mar 3, 2019 at 11:43
  • @BoldBen: I wouldn't call them "appositions". A candy-bar the kind she liked was stuck in the vending machine and ready to fall out with a little bit of jostling.
    – TRomano
    Mar 3, 2019 at 11:58
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    Not all noun phrases are viable in that position. A car the color she wanted was on the lot is grammatical whereas A car the price she could afford was on the lot is ungrammatical or marginal at best. I would distinguish the viable and the non-viable using the terms "intrinsic quality" and "extrinsic quality".
    – TRomano
    Mar 3, 2019 at 12:09

1 Answer 1


The meaning of terms like "apposition/appositive" seem to be debated, so it might not be the clearest way to describe this construction.

To me, the construction that you are asking about seems to be along the lines of things that are analyzed as reduced relative clauses or the product of "whiz-deletion": "A man the size of a giant" and "Somebody her age" can be rephrased as "a man who was the size of a giant" and "somebody who was her age".

The definition of "apposition"

"Apposition" might be taken to refer to replaceability

One user of this site, BillJ, uses a definition of "apposition" that seems to require that the appositive NP could replace the first NP. That doesn't work in your sentences, which don't entail that "The size of a giant came up to me" and "Her age shouldn't do such exercises". You can see more discussion of this definition of apposition in the comment thread here: What is the grammatical term of "whose wife was a school teacher"?

Or apposition might be considered to be associated with non-restrictive constructions specifically

"Appositional constructions", a 2011 thesis by Herman Heringa, mentions a distinction between "close" apposition, which does not involve parenthetical commas, and "loose" or "non-restrictive" apposition: Heringa says that the latter is "usually taken as apposition proper" (p. 3). Consequently, Heringa only analyzes the non-restrictive construction in his thesis, although he does mention that Meyer (1992) has a different viewpoint, seeing restrictive and non-restrictive constructions as different types of a single phenomenon (p. 3).

Heringa suggests looking at De Vries (2008a) for "more details on the restrictive construction" (p. 5).

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