The Grammarphobia Blog

People, places, and names

Q: The noun for a member of a nation or region is often the same as the adjective (Canadian, American, Chinese, etc.), but there are many exceptions (Frenchman, Spaniard, Swede, and so on). Is there any rule or guideline in all this?

A: There is no hard-and-fast rule about how to form English nouns for people living in a nation, region, city, or whatever. And some of these words are surprising. El Pasoan, for instance, makes sense, but how about Michigander, or Liverpudlian, or Hoosier?

The names for people from particular places are called “demonyms.” Although there are wild variations in English, many are formed by adding suffixes to the roots of the place names. Common suffixes include “an” (as in American), “ian” (Italian), “ine” (Argentine), “ite” (Muscovite), “i” (Israeli), and “ese” (Viennese).

Some demonyms are the same as the English names for the languages spoken by the people: German, Russian, Italian, Norwegian, and so on. Others include part of the place names or adjectives (like Dane, Finn, Pole, Turk, Swede), and still other demonyms are just plain irregular, like Hoosier.

If you’d like to know more, there’s an interesting article in Wikipedia about demonyms.

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