Do we need to place the indefinite article "a" before the noun "gay" or should we rather use the adjective?

As far as I'm concerned we say, "He is gay" And not, "He is a gay"

According to the Google Ngram Viewer, the adjective is preferred.

There are also other ways to say it, "He is a gay person"

Is it offensive to say, "He is a gay"?

According to this website, which talks about terms to avoid, it is.

Also people on Quora say that "The use of the term 'a gay' is intended to be humorous or ironic"

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    Adding the article changes the tone quite a bit. "He is gay" is similar to "He is tall". "He is a gay" sounds bigoted, and I'm not exactly sure how to explain why. "He is an American"/"He is American" doesn't have the same kind of problem, but "he is black"/"he is a black" does. The only way I can think of that it might be humorous or ironic is if it was being used to mock a bigot. It seems like old fashioned, Archie Bunker style bigotry to me. I'll have to think about it some more before writing an answer.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 17, 2017 at 12:39
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    @ColleenV I would appreciate a good answer! Feb 17, 2017 at 13:32
  • Sorry, I thought you only wished to know the grammar machinery of the sentences. I did run a check on the Ngram site, but failed to detect this emotional difference between "gay" and "a gay". I mused about it but I've little time today for investigating. Will monitor the answers to the question! Feb 17, 2017 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


He is gay is a description; He is a gay is a categorisation.

He is gay simply describes one aspect of a person, and is a much more neutral statement.

He is a gay, on the other hand, assigns this person to the category of "Gay", with the inherent assumption that this person fits the norms and stereotypes of that category.

In some contexts, that kind of categorisation makes sense. He is a Christian, for example - Christians are nearly always part of a group, and self-identify as members of that group. He is a Democrat also makes sense.

On the other hand, He is a fat does not make any sense. "Fat" is a descriptive term, not the identity of a group

While many LGBT folks do tend to congregate together as a community, not all wish to be a part of it. Assigning others to groups or categories they do not chose for themselves is generally inappropriate, which is why the word "Gay" is shifting to a description, rather than a categorisation.

There's also an inherent tribalism in assigning others to this or that group, especially when the speaker is not a part of the group. It's particularly dangerous to do so on the basis of inherent characteristics that a person cannot change.

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