nationality word

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Nauruan refers both to a person who lives in the Pacific island of Nauru and to the Austronesian language spoken in Nauru. Nauruan is the only nationality word that's a palindrome.


A nationality word is a word that refers to a member (or to a characteristic of a member) of a particular country or ethnic group.

Most nationality words are either proper nouns or adjectives related to proper nouns. Thus, a nationality word is usually spelled with an initial capital letter.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "The English are polite by telling lies. The Americans are polite by telling the truth."
    (Malcolm Bradbury, Stepping Westward. Martin Secker & Warburg, 1965)
  • "[Samuel Taylor Coleridge's account of his first sea voyage] reads like the standard chauvinistic traveler's joke, featuring a Dane, a Swede, a Prussian, a Hanoverian, and a Frenchman, the humor based mainly on their poor command of English—by an Englishman who spoke no other mother tongue."
    (Kenneth R. Johnston, The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy. W.W. Norton, 1998)
  • "He showered quickly, dressed himself in khaki pants and a native box-cut shirt, a gauzy dress item called a barong tagalog, a gift from his Filipino friend Major Aguinaldo."
    (Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007)
  • "Because a newborn baby can be brought up to be a Hottentot* or a German, an Eskimo** or an American, because each group of people seems to be born with the same kinds of individual differences, democracy is not a pipe dream, but a practical working plan."
    (Margaret Mead, And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America, 1942. Berghahn Books, 2000)
    *This ethnic group is now referred to as the Khoikhoi (also spelled Khoekhoe).
    **In most contexts, the preferred term today is Inuit or Alaskan Native.
  • "Mrs. Thanh joined her Vietnamese and Cambodian neighbors in a tenants association that was working for improved conditions in their apartment houses."
    (Elizabeth Bogan, Immigration in New York. Frederick A. Praeger, 1987)
  • "The name 'Parminter' suggested a rather fluffy, woolly kind of fellow, so with the aid of a droopy mustache I made him terribly, terribly British--what they would call in England a chinless twit."
    (Barry Morse, Pulling Faces, Making Noises: A Life on Stage, Screen & Radio. iUniverse, 2004)
  • "[T]he immigrants ventured into their new communities, buying houses, launching businesses, and establishing relations with their Canadian and Australian neighbors and coworkers."
    (Nan M. Sussman, Return Migration and Identity: A Global Phenomenon, A Hong Kong Case. Hong Kong University Press, 2010)
  • "Our visitor will appreciate our delicacy and taste. We shall show him that we are not Russian vulgarians, which is too often the case I fear, and although shortbread is not, strictly speaking, an English confection but a Scottish one, I am certain that he will not be in the least put out. Except that we must remember to call it Scots. Not Scottish. That also is frowned upon, I am told."
    (Dirk Bogarde, West of Sunset, 1984. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013)
  • Different Kinds of Nationality Words: American and Irish
    "Among the adjectives that can be used as heads of noun phrases . . . are certain nationality adjectives: the English, the Irish, the Japanese: e.g. The English are great travellers. But not all nationality adjectives can be treated like this; for instance, American. This word is, when the need arises, fully converted to the class of noun; it can be pluralized or used with the indefinite article. The following lists show the very different properties of these two kinds of nationality word [an asterisk indicates an ungrammatical or unconventional structure]:
    an American
    two Americans
    *the American are gregarious
    the Americans are gregarious
    * an Irish
    * two Irishes
    the Irish are gregarious
    *the Irishes are gregarious
    In fact, American belongs to a class of words that, although originating from adjectives, have come to be incorporated in the class of noun as well."
    (David J. Young, Introducing English Grammar. Hutchinson, 1984)
  • Nationality Words in Superlative Constructions
    "If the adjective's meaning is shifted to denote a related qualitative (non-intersecting) property, then it will be allowed to occur in superlative constructions. For example, the nationality adjective Mexican can be understood as expressing the quality or qualities that are quintessential to being Mexican. This interpretation of Mexican is non-intersecting, and sentences such as (44) are not only possible but very common: (44) Salma Hayek is the most Mexican of the top-tier movie actresses." (Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach, "Characterizing Superlative Qualifiers." Adjectives: Formal Analyses in Syntax and Semantics, ed. by Patricia Cabredo Hofherr and Ora Matushansky. John Benjamins, 2010)
  • Polysemy and Nationality Words
    "Many adjectives . . . are polysemous, denoting a categorial property in one sense and a scalar one in another. For example, a nationality adjective like British denotes a categorial property in its central sense, as in a British passport, the British Parliament, but also has an extended sense denoting a scalar property ('like typical or stereotypical British people or things'), as in He's very British; the primacy of the categorial sense is reflected in the fact that the adjective will not normally be interpreted in the scalar sense unless there is some grading modifier present. To a significant extent, therefore, the gradable/nongradable contrast applies to uses of adjectives, rather than simply to the adjectives themselves."
    (Rodney Huddleston, Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 1984)
  • Stranded Names
    "A place name like Hong Kong is 'stranded' with no related nationality word, which means that circumlocutions with a prepositional phrase like from Hong Kong are often needed."
    (Andreas Fischer, The History and the Dialects of English: Festschrift for Eduard Kolb. Winter, 1989)
    "Bruce Lee has not always been regarded by Hong Kongers as a Hong Konger (as suggested earlier, he has for a long time been regarded by Hong Kongers as about as much of a Hong Konger as Hong Kong Disneyland)."
    (Paul Bowman, Beyond Bruce Lee. Wallflower Press, 2013)
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Nordquist, Richard. "nationality word." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). nationality word. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "nationality word." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).