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What is the difference bewteen

Are they American

and

Are they Americans?

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4  
Both are perfectly correct, but I think the singular (adjective) is more common than the plural noun. –  FumbleFingers Nov 25 '11 at 15:10
2  
It's the same as the difference between "Are they Danish?" and "Are they Danes?". You don't want to say "Are they Danishes?" because that would mean pastries. –  Peter Shor Nov 25 '11 at 15:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Both are correct and mean the same thing. The difference is that in

Are they American?

American is used as an adjective, while in

Are they Americans?

it is used as a noun in plural form. If there were only one person, the questions would become

Is he American?

and

Is he an American?

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Thank you Jasper! –  lukas Nov 26 '11 at 9:56
    
I don't think they're quite the same thing. One is "an American" if one is from the United States. One is "American" if one has the characteristics of those from the United States. –  David Schwartz Nov 27 '11 at 1:54
1  
When used without qualification to refer to a person, yes, that's the main meaning. But if you negate them, the difference becomes clearer. You can say someone is "not American" if they act in unAmerican ways. But I don't think you'd say they're "not an American" except to mean that they aren't a native of America. –  David Schwartz Nov 29 '11 at 4:57

Although the subject is they in both cases, Are they American? considers the group as a whole, whereas Are they Americans? considers the group as a collection of individuals.

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Thank you Barrie! –  lukas Nov 26 '11 at 9:56

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