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  • people from China = Chinese
  • people from Japan = Japanese
  • people from Australia = Australian
  • people from Lebanon = Lebanese
  • people from Sweden = Swedish

Are there any rules that govern this? Like people from asian countries all end with an "ese" or something? Or maybe some rules within the name of the country?

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Good question. There's a pretty comprehensive list of such names on Wikipedia: Demonym, with many more suffixes in addition to the -ese, -n and -ish you observed: there's -ian as in Canadian (rather than Canadan), -er as in New Zealander, -i as in Bangladeshi and Israeli, etc. Let's see if anyone has generated a good set of rules from these examples… – ShreevatsaR Mar 9 '11 at 9:11
Country names and demonyms should be capitalised; I have edited your question accordingly – F'x Mar 9 '11 at 9:13
people from Sweden = Swedes is an alternative – Henry Mar 9 '11 at 10:13
Swedes is a slightly oddball case. Most Demonyms seem to be the adjective for the relevant country, so you can regard "Swedish" as a shorthand for "the Swedish people". However while you would refer to "Swedish meatballs", you wouldn't ever call them "Swedes meatballs"! All of which isn't terribly relevant to the question, of course. – user1579 Mar 9 '11 at 13:48
I think Swedish is the adjective, whereas Swedes is the demonym. – Zsub Mar 9 '11 at 14:30

Good question. I tried thinking up some sort of guideline and found that I didn't really know myself, so I found this article which does a fairly decent job at explaining it and some general rules on how to apply them. Though, like all things in English, if you want to know with any precision how to call people from certain countries, you must memorize them.

In summary:

With some exceptions, place names ending with:

  • ea or silent e get -ean, e.g. Chilean
  • a get -n e.g. American
  • a vowel get -an e.g. Malian
  • otherwise use -ian e.g. Iranian

The use of -ese, according to the article, comes from Italian words borrowed into English from the first traders in the far east and South America, who were Italian.

The article goes onto to say -ic and -er come from Latin via Germanic languages, and are appended to the end of countries ending in -land or island. -ic is usually used to denote "having some characteristic of", e.g. Icelandic whereas -er is usually used to denote a person from that place, thus Icelander.

The other Germanic suffix -ish means "belonging to", and is only used for countries in Europe. The article points out that French and Dutch uses this suffix, but it has been "fused with the base to create a new irregular adjective".

Finally -i comes from Arabic (e.g. Pakistani), and also means belonging to. Almost all countries that get this suffix are in the Middle East, Central Asia (to the north) and North Africa and are Islamic. Countries that don't have had a long history of contact with The West before conversion to Islam.

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Isn't it Malinese? – oɔɯǝɹ Sep 16 '12 at 11:16

The name of “how people from a given place are called” is demonym. You can find more information, including examples, in the Wikipedia. If you have more specific questions, please feel free to edit your original post!

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