Nationality words

Basic forms

When talking about people and things from a particular country, you use one of three types of words:
  • An adjective showing the country, such as French in French wine
  • A noun referring to a person from the country, such as Frenchman
  • A noun preceded by the which refers to all the people of the country, such as the French
In many cases, the word for a person who comes from a particular country is the same as the adjective, and the word for all the people of the country is the plural form of this.
All nationality adjectives that end in `-an' follow this pattern. All nationality adjectives that end in `-ese' also follow this pattern. However, the plural form of these words is the same as the singular form.
A form ending in `-ese' is in fact not commonly used to refer to one person. For example, people tend to say a Portuguese man or a Portuguese woman rather than `a Portuguese'.
Swiss also follows this pattern.
There is a group of nationality words where the word for all the people of a country is the plural of the word for a person from that country, but the adjective is different.
Another group of nationality words have a special word for the person who comes from the country, but the adjective and the word for the people are the same.
Briton is used only in writing, and is not common in British English, but is the standard term for someone from the UK in American English.
The adjective relating to Scotland is Scottish.A person from Scotland is a Scot, a Scotsman, or a Scotswoman. You usually refer to all the people in Scotland as the Scots.

Referring to a person

Instead of using a nationality noun to refer to a person from a particular country, you can use a nationality adjective followed by a noun such as man, gentleman, woman, or lady. Indian gentleman.
...a French lady.
People usually use nationality adjectives rather than nouns after be. For example, you would say He's Polish rather than `He's a Pole'.
Spike is American. You can tell from the accent.

Referring to the people

When you are saying something about a nation, you use a plural form of the verb, even when the nationality word you are using does not end in `-s'.
The British are worried about the prospect of cheap imports.
You can use plural nouns ending in `-s' on their own to refer to the people of a particular country.
There is no way in which Italians, for example, can be prevented from entering Germany or France to seek jobs.
You can use a general determiner, a number, or an adjective in front of a plural noun to refer to some of the people of a particular country.
Many Americans assume that the British are stiff and formal.
There were four Germans with Dougal.
You can't use nationality words which do not end in `-s' like this. For example, you can't say `many French' or `four French'.
You can also use the name of a country to mean the people who belong to it or who are representing it officially. You use a singular form of a verb with it.
...the fact that Britain has been excluded from these talks.

Country as modifier

If there is no adjective that shows what country someone or something belongs to, you can use the name of the country as a modifier.
...the New Zealand government.

Combining nationality adjectives

You can usually combine nationality adjectives by putting a hyphen between them when you want to show that something involves two countries.
...He has dual German-American citizenship.
...the Italian-Swiss border.
There are a few special adjectives that are only used in this sort of combination, in front of the hyphen.
  • Anglo- (England or Britain)
  • Euro- (Europe)
  • Franco- (France)
  • Indo- (India)
  • Italo- (Italy)
  • Russo- (Russia)
  • Sino- (China)
...Anglo-American trade relations.


Many nationality adjectives can be used to refer to the language that is spoken in a particular country or that was originally spoken in a particular country.
She speaks French so well.
There's something written here in Greek.

Cities, regions, and states

There are a number of nouns that are used to refer to a person from a particular city, region, or state.
...a 23-year-old New Yorker.
Perhaps Londoners have simply got used to it.
Their children are now like other Californians.
Similarly, there are a number of adjectives that show that a person or thing comes from or exists in a particular city or state.
...a Glaswegian accent.
...a Californian beach.
Get all volumes of The Farlex Grammar Book in paperback or eBook.
Share Tweet Share