What is the right form to use when talking about plural citizenship?
"We are Italian" or "we are Italians"? (or American, Or German or any other ending with "*an") Same issue for "Saudi" or "Saudies", "Israeli" or "Israelies", etc. I understand that one is used as a noun and one as an adjective, but which is right and why?

And on the same topic, how can for example, "Chinese", "Taiwanese" or "Japanese" be used differently for plural and singular?

And what should one do with "Korean" - is "Koreans" even valid? Somehow it sounds strange to say "Koreans".

EDIT I : as result of the comments :

I am not specifically talking about "nationality" . the same can be asked about a city:

would It be "Londonian" or "Londonese" , "New-Yorkean" or "New-Yorker" "New Yorkian" or "New-yorkese"?

..and also about non-human objects or concepts like books, food, drinks, art , company etc.

I am sorry if I combine different concepts here , But I have a difficulty in pin pointing a common logic .

  • 4
    "We are Danes" or "We are Danish", but not "We are danishes". Mar 8, 2012 at 11:43
  • 2
    ...unless spoken by pastries.
    – Urbycoz
    Mar 8, 2012 at 11:55
  • 1
    If you're from London, you're a Londoner. There isn't an adjective form of that, as far as I know. Mar 8, 2012 at 13:25
  • Londinian, Londonian, Londonish, and just London are all used as adjectives, there seems to be no standard, go figure. Mar 8, 2012 at 14:51
  • ich bin ein berliner. Mar 8, 2012 at 15:01

4 Answers 4


To use an adjective of nationality, you can simply say

We are Italian [Japanese, American, German, Egyptian, Korean, etc.]


I am Italian [Japanese, American, German, Egyptian, Korean, etc.]

The fact that you are an Italian person is implied (and obvious).

If you want to stress the personhood of the individual or group, say

We are Italians [Japanese, Americans, Germans, Egyptians, Koreans, etc.]


I am an Italian [a Japanese, an American, a German, an Egyptian, a Korean, etc.]

Note that in cases where the the nationality adjective takes the -ese ending, as in Japanese or Portuguese, you do not add the -s to form the plural.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with saying either Korean or Koreans.

EDIT The -i ending follows the form of the -an ending: Saudi/Saudis, Israeli/Israelis, Pakistani/Pakistanis. And there are some nations for which no really satisfactory plurals or adjectives exist: What, for example, does one do when referring to people from Ivory Coast? Probably call them Cote d'Ivoirian, but that is a bastardization at best.

EDIT 2 in response to OP's EDIT 1

Since it now appears you are talking about any demonym, there is no good rule to apply except this: there is no common logic (and, indeed, perhaps no logic at all). You must learn each case individually. In America we have Chicagoans from Chicago, Angelinos from Los Angeles, New Yorkers from New York, Mainers (or Mainiacs) from Maine, and I myself am proud to be a Masshole from Massachusetts (joke!). Note that most place-names ending in a vowel can, however, take the -an ending in one form or another: Tennesseean, Georgian, Russian, Australian, etc., and in some cases you add an i before the an (Floridian, for example). Still, you still have to contend with Naples => Neapolitan, The Netherlands => Dutch, France => French, and so on.

  • 1
    Probably the best thing is to treat each demonym separately: rules are confusing when national sensitivities are involved. Consider that we should logically say Saudi Arabian (or Saudian, since I understand Saudia is what the natives call it), and (from historical precedent) Israelite. No doubt if -that part of Africa- hit the news, we (led by journalists) would reach a consensus. (I have seen Ivorian and Ivoirian). Mar 8, 2012 at 11:45
  • I understand - and in case of a PERSON nationality it can be satisfactory, but what if i talk a bout a book, or food ? I would assume "Those Drinks/Books are Italian" is the correct one, but your answer, if i correctly understand it , suggest that if the emphasis is on the "personhood" (as such not exist exactly for abook) , I would use "Italians" ?? (when stressing not the nationality , but the "spirit" .. like painting, taste form of art etc - which nationality is not "italian" but have the "italian spirit" inside .. Mar 8, 2012 at 11:46
  • "Italians" is more likely to make one thing of people than things, and though it is possible to use it in the latter case I would not recommend it unless you are writing literature.
    – Robusto
    Mar 8, 2012 at 12:19
  • Advising a non-native to call Massachusettsans "Massholes" could certain set up an unfortunate scenario... Mar 8, 2012 at 14:38
  • 1
    @Mark: So noted. I kept the joke but identified it as such for non-native speakers and humorless readers.
    – Robusto
    Mar 8, 2012 at 14:41

When there are two possibilities, such as ‘We are Italian’ and ‘We are Italians’, the singular emphasises the collective nature of the group, while the plural emphasises the individuality of each of its members. That facility is not available where the plural is identical with the singular, as in Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese. The forms ‘Saudies’ and ‘Israelies’ are not found, but ‘Koreans’ is certainly used as the plural of ‘Korean’.


The pluralised version is most useful if there are multiple nationalities present. So you might say "This group is made up of Italians, Koreans and French". You could say "Italian, Korean and French nationals", but that is rather more convoluted, and only appropriate if you are distinguishing specific forms of identity.

The difference between "We are Italian" and "We are Italians" is how you are wanting to identify yourself. the former identifies yourself as a member of the group, wheras the latter implies more that you are an individual, who shares a nationality with the others.

  • ok, that can be logic when talking about people, but what about book, food, art ? and what if I am not a part of the group "they are Italians " and not "we are Italians" Mar 8, 2012 at 11:54
  • When it is not people, Italian food, Italian art is the usual. When you are not part of the group, it is still about how you are defining them - as a group entity, or as individuals. Mar 8, 2012 at 12:38
  • But of course, "Let's go for a Chinese/Indian/etc." doesn't usually mean "Let's attack [a person of that nationality]". It means go out to eat in a restaurant specialising in that country's food. Mar 8, 2012 at 14:59
  • 1
    Unless you live in Luton, that is. ;) Mar 8, 2012 at 15:57

Neither is 'correct'; they have slightly different meanings. Consider an example where the forms are different: We are men and We are male are both grammatically correct, and (in a situation where age and connotation are not important) they are interchangeable. Note that an Italian can only be a person, like an Englishman or Englishwoman; inanimate objects can be Italian, but never Italians.

And the other tangential points: Saudis and Israelis are the usual forms: "a Japanese/several Japanese", though unsatisfactory, is the only practical way of forming the noun: Koreans is entirely normal.

  • thanks for the answer, but IMHO, men and male are totally different concepts - and they are as an example also different from my example in the question. men as a word integrates several "ingredients" and "concepts" to form a new one (such as Age, Sex..). "we are all male" and "we are all men" can describe a very different situation. (think of a room full with male children, and a room full of grown men) Mar 8, 2012 at 11:50
  • @Obmerk; good point, edited accordingly. Mar 8, 2012 at 12:08

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