A fairly common mistake for English language learners from certain countries is to say something like, "I am a French" or "I am a Spanish", which is incorrect (today you would say "I am French/Spanish" or "I am a French/Spanish person", or to a lesser extent "I am a Frenchman/Spaniard"). However, there are many examples of demonyms whose adjective form can be used as a noun, e.g., "I am an Italian/Iraqi/Russian", but not "I am a French/Chinese/Danish" (well, you can say 'I am a Danish,' but that has an entirely different meaning).

Just from thinking about examples, it seems to me that the rule is:

If you can form a demonym with -an/-ian/-i/-ite, you may use it as a noun, otherwise, it is only an adjective.

Does this hold in general? Are there notable exceptions to this rule (in either direction)?

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    Such words come to us usually via French during the Middle English period (sometimes from Latin directly) and came to us already being used like nouns; hence the article: a Parisian; whereas -ish, a Germanic adjectival suffix, gets used as a predicate adjective: He is English.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 13:00

1 Answer 1


As a native English speaker I'd never thought of this! This is very interesting. Yes, I think your rule holds. I think the reason is that -an, -ian, -i, and -ite make words that sound like nouns (not adjectives), so it sounds normal to use them with indefinite articles.

One exception I can think of is "I am a Korean." So, maybe you should add -ean to you list (although it's basically the same thing as -ian). -ican can also take an article ("I am an American" and "I am American" both sound good.)

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