When we talk about nationalities, "Americans" and "the Americans(or the American people)" are two ways of saying the same thing with the latter having a collective sense. The same is true for "Italians" vs. "the Italians(or the Italian people)", "French people" vs. "the French(or the French people)", "Japanese people" vs. "the Japanese(or the Japanese people), etc. Is it perfectly fine to say "the American (as a plural)" to mean the same as "the Americans or the American people"; "the Italian (as a plural)" instead of "the Italians or the Italian people" to refer to them as the nation as a whole?

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    No; the singular refers to one person, not to the people. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 5:55
  • Which means "the American people" can't be shortened to "the American" with no change in meaning? Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 6:06
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    Only in a context where it’s very clear that people is understood, and even then not ideally. You might get away with saying, “The American people numbers over 300 million; the Italian only about 60 million”, but even there it would be more natural to just repeat the noun. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 6:08
  • @JanusBahsJacquet When describing, for example, national characteristics is it now too dated to say something like "The Belgian, like the Englishman prefers drinking beer". One can use a singular noun to refer to the collective with such as "the elephant is larger than the bison", so why not "the native American is descended from Asians who came across the Behring Straits".
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 6:50
  • @WS2 I don’t think those are too dated, but they’re synecdochical – they’re using the singular as a typical representative of its group. So you might say that the Belgian, like the Englishman, likes his/her beer, but not that the Belgian likes their beer. To me at least, this usage doesn’t mean the same thing as the people: the singular specifically means ‘the average, stereotypical X’, whereas the plural means ‘the collection of Xes as a whole’. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 7:01

1 Answer 1


Some national adjectives are taken as plural nouns when used alone: e.g. "the British", "the English", "the Welsh", "the Scottish", "the Irish", "the French", "the Japanese", "the Chinese", are easily used to refer to the people as a whole. (This may possibly have to do with the words' endings.)

Some national adjectives are singular nouns when used alone: "the American", "the Canadian", "the Mexican", "the Egyptian", "the Italian", "the Australian", all mean individuals, unless used in a metaphorical or generic sense ('the typical American....', 'the Ugly American').

"The Turk" is an individual; "the Turkish" are his people.

  • Yes, there appear to be lexical gaps. The man from Azerbaijan / Belize / Brunei / Burkina Faso / Chad.... Though I believe I've come across 'Japanese' and 'Chinese' as representing singular individuals (I wouldn't call these count usages; I've never heard 'two Japaneses', for instance). Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 12:15
  • @Edwin Ashworth: Adjectives like "the Azerbaijani" and "the Iraqi" are also singular, but there are traps for the unwary: a citizen of Afghanistan is "an Afghan" (make no puns about other American uses of that word), while if you say "an Afghani" you are referring to the national currency, parallel to the US Dollar or UK Pound. // And no, per my comment above about some adjectives being plural when used alone, one can say "two [or any higher number] Japanese" (French, Welsh, etc.) without adding "s". To indicate a singular, put a noun afterward: man/woman/person/citizen.
    – Raven
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 14:13

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