Is the phrase "China balloon" grammatically correct?

I was under the impression that it must be "Chinese balloon", but I see the former used in mainstream news such as the Associated Press or even by the Wikipedia.


2 Answers 2


It is now a common usage to refer to things such as the “England team” when referring to the team from England or who represent England in a football match.

For one example of many:

Sky Sports
Three of the England team which triumphed at the Women's Euros have been shortlisted in FIFA's annual player awards …

In more exalted publications we can find other examples such as:

NATO Energy Security:
“NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence was visited by the France delegation”

Similarly we now have “China balloon” as a balloon that came from China. This is slightly different and more restrictive than “Chinese balloon”, which may come from China but might also be merely of a Chinese nature in some way, or be of Chinese manufacture.

  • First, soccer team names used in the British press are different, so that's not a good example. But more importantly, this is only newspeak's denuded headlinese which chops off characters whenever it gets the chan. It's jarring to use country names this way, which is why you may see it in newspaper articles but not in carefully edited texts. When's the last time you were on a France farm or in a Germany city? Never, I bet.
    – tchrist
    Feb 6, 2023 at 23:59
  • @tchrist like it or not (and I, like you, do not like it), this is the way our language develops. It is not restricted to the British press or sports (other examples such as the one I have added abound). In my editorial roles I grit my teeth and try to be tolerant.
    – Anton
    Feb 7, 2023 at 8:14
  • 1
    One of the issues that the use of England team, rather than English team, avoids is the nationality of the players. The England team is a team of players representing the country England, the English team might be a team of people who are all English. Perhaps the current England football team are all English, but have a look at the Scotland rugby union team many of whom might only qualify as Scottish under the World RU's current rules on the topic of who gets to play for who. Feb 7, 2023 at 10:24
  • 1
    @tchrist — I did not include it in my own answer, but your remark about newspapers is borne out by this morning's Financial Times, where an article uses "China Balloon" in a title which has only a couple of letter spaces to spare, but "Chinese balloon" in the first line of text. (And in countries other than the US and Australia, it's football, or association football to distinguish it from... rugby football.)
    – David
    Feb 7, 2023 at 18:08

Q. Is the phrase ‘China balloon’ grammatically correct?
A. Yes and no, but more no than yes.

The main adjectival form of China in English is Chinese, the first example of which in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is dated to the 16th century. This is illustrated by many long-standing expressions such as:

  • Chinese boxes
  • Chinese checkers
  • Chinese hamster
  • Chinese lantern
  • Chinese whispers

The OED on-line does not even list China as an adjective, although it is found in some set expressions such as ‘China tea’.

Nevertheless, there has been a recent trend to replace traditional adjectival forms of countries by the name of the country itself. I suspect, but do not know for certain, that this reflects an attitude or belief that describing people in terms of their national origin is somehow ‘racist’. Regardless of its origin or justification, this usage appears to be increasing, although I personally consider it to be particularly unfortunate in relation to China.

This is because of the aural ambiguity that arises from the use of the word china (uncapitalized) as a noun for certain ceramics (originally Chinese porcelain) and as an adjective in expressions for paticular porcelain items such as china doll. China ornaments are found in various forms, but a China balloon would, I think, have as much chance of flying as the China pig shown below.

China Pig

One would expect a china balloon to go down like a lead balloon; which is what literally happened in this case.

  • What you say in the final paragraph is the important point because it explains why the OP was puzzled. Jokes can arise from 'jeux de mots' like this no doubt unintended example. The Associated Press was either careless or thought it would be funny to leave it.
    – Tuffy
    Feb 7, 2023 at 19:08
  • Whatever the OED stance on strings such as 'England team', 'football manager', 'China tea', the view of almost all grammarians is that the premodifier remains a noun (though it can be argued that an open compound is a single noun). I firmly believe that this is also the view accepted by the majority of regular ELU contributors who have voiced an opinion. Feb 7, 2023 at 19:25
  • @EdwinAshworth — Are you suggesting that I should reword to avoid the references to adjectival (rather than modifier) or do you consider that there something basically wrong with my answer? I am willing to attempt to improve it if you can clarify.
    – David
    Feb 7, 2023 at 21:55
  • Is the label 'adjectival' above yours or OED's, David? I seem to remember that even OED has been criticised here for POS labelling. For the prevailing understanding of POS assignment of 'football' in 'football manager', please look up threads under the 'attributive noun' tag. Some strings (eg 'steel bridge') cause bunfights even among academics. Feb 8, 2023 at 16:17
  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth — I am fortunate in having access to OED online through my university. I don't know whether the web page differs from any other version, but the entry is headed "China n. and adj.". However the start of the section on "Compounds" is "Simple attributive. Now generally superseded by Chinese adj., exc. where this would be ambiguous, as in China trade, China trader, China merchant, etc". Of course dictionaries tend not to be written for grammarians, and the use of traditional terms should surely not be taken to reflect a position on modern grammatical terminology.
    – David
    Feb 8, 2023 at 18:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.