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When describing people we often use adjectives based on their place of origin. (I'm asking about people only for simplicity.)

1) She is American.
2) He is English.
3) They are Canadian.

You can also describe people as nouns based on their origins:

4) She is an American.
5) He is an Englishman.
6) They are Canadians.

It doesn't always work this way. You can say "He is a New Yorker", but to the best of my knowledge, there is no adjective for "New York".

It seems to me that in items 4 & 6 the last words are adjectival nouns. Item 5, on the other hand, is just a noun. That seems curious to me.


  • Why is it that not all place names have adjectival forms? (Or at least that none are used, like for New York?) (Actually, I realize we do use "New York" as a noun adjunct (like in "a New York minute"), but not as an adjective.)
  • Why are some of the nouns used to describe people in this manner adjectival nouns, and some are not? (Or at least, they appear to be just plain nouns (New Yorker, Englishman).)
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A 'New York minute'? –  Mitch Feb 7 '12 at 23:26
    
@Mitch: A New York minute is idiomatic for an instant, connoting the hurry and bustle of New York. –  Daniel Feb 8 '12 at 1:39
    
@Danielδ: I thought I was giving an adjectival form for 'New York'. –  Mitch Feb 8 '12 at 12:08
    
@Mitch: Oh, I thought you were asking what the OP meant by "a New York minute". Looks like HodofHod beat you to that one. –  Daniel Feb 9 '12 at 1:24
    
@Danielδ: Augghh...bad reading comprehension. I didn't see that. Anyway, my point was that ou dont have to have an explicit adjective form to be adjectival. If you want to call it a 'noun adjunct' fine, but it's acting like an adjective, so it -is- an adjective, so no need to look further. –  Mitch Feb 9 '12 at 2:56
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2 Answers

List of adjectival and demonymic forms of place names

The following is a partial list of adjectival forms of place names in English and their demonymic equivalents, which denote the people or the inhabitants of these places.

The list can be found here on Wikipedia

Note: Many of these adjectivals and demonyms are not used in English as frequently as their counterparts in other languages. A common practice is to use a city's name as if it were an adjective, as in "Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra", "Melbourne suburbs", etc.

New York can also be used as an adjective without changing it's form.

A map of adjectival forms of place names

can be found here

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It's a bit hard to grasp the question you are asking, particularly because your entry contains misconceptions. For example, the words in examples 1-3 are adjectives, but they are not based on place names but rather on the names of nations or ethnic groups. So, we have Chinese, Danish, Iroquois, Jewish, and Turkish but not *Akronian (from Akron, Ohio).

Similarly, although some of the words employed to refer to people on the basis of their national, ethnic, or geographic origins, as in examples 4-6, look the same as the previous set--notably American and Canadian, many are not--and the plural inflections that appear on American and Canadian in the plural show that they are indeed not adjectives but nouns. Other examples than New Yorker include Dane, Hoosier, Illini, Iroquois, Jew, and Turk. Instructively, we do not put *Chinaman in this set because of its history of pejorative usage, but instead would say, I think, "They are from China."

Similarly, if the other terms were to become dysphemic, I believe we would say "They are from Denmark", "from Indiana", "from Illinois", and "from Turkey", but "members of the Jewish nation" or "of the Iroquois nation." Thus, word-formation processes differ across types of words in ways that go well beyond the adjective/adjectival-noun dichotomy your question employs.

As I said, I am not sure your question is well posed, though the issues it raises are complex and quite interesting. I wish that I had more to say.

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I'll address each paragraph in turn. 1) I fail to see how the name of a nation is not also the name of a place. 2) That is correct, 4-6 are nouns, but (correct me if I'm mistaken), 4 & 6 seem to be adjectival nouns. I asked why some are adjectival nouns and some are not. You give some good examples of other nouns, similar to "Englishman", but I'm not sure what you're adding. (By the way, actually, I believe in the plural we might say "they are Chinese". In the singular, however, you are correct, "he is from China".) –  HodofHod Feb 8 '12 at 4:45
    
Continued. 3) Terms becoming offensive may be a reason for why some are no longer used, but not for them never existing. That being said, yes, the evolution of language is a lot more complex than I have, intentionally, made it seem. Thank you for your answer, it gave me much to think about. –  HodofHod Feb 8 '12 at 4:46
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