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I tried but failed to wrap my head around the grammar for the term "American-born" (and all other similar expressions - "Canadian-born", "French-born", ...etc). Is it a set phrase or is there some grammar rule why the term has to be American-born, not America-born ?

  • Adjectives usually precede nouns, e.g funny movies not movies funny, soft wool not wool soft, but American is both an adjective and a noun, and you can look at it as being an adjective in compound nouns such as American pie, and an “all American hero” etc. When the second word is a verb in the Past Participle, the first word is normally a noun, e.g. a candle-lit dinner. – Mari-Lou A May 19 at 12:28
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    Notice that Americans don't have to be born in America to be American-born. – Quora Feans May 19 at 12:37
  • Apparently, the Q is not specific to America. The title is misleading (proof: some of the comments and answers.) – Kris May 20 at 10:37
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There are 2 ways to express the country of birth.


born as a(n) [American, Canadian...]

rewritten as:

[American, Canadian...]-born


born in [America, Canada...]


It is similar with the pattern:

(adjective) - ("past participle" of a noun)

e.g.:

  • short-sleeved = with a short sleeve

  • fast-paced = with a fast pace

Compare with:

(adjective) - (past participle)

American-born = born in America

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    thank you for the input. However, can you elaborate on why the phrase cannot be "noun-past participle" but has to be "adjective-past participle"? – B Chen May 18 at 10:55
  • because you cannot say "born as an America". You have to choose one way to say the information, and stick to that. If you mix things randomly, it will not work. – virolino May 18 at 10:57
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    No, this answer is wrong. If it were right, we couldn't say "factory made". – Colin Fine May 18 at 13:33
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    Rephrase my confusion - please clarify why "born in America" cannot be converted to "America-born", but "born as an American" can be converted to "American-born" – B Chen May 18 at 13:34
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    @ColinFine we can say "factory made" but I'm not familiar with the expression "China made", it's always "Made in China", likewise it's normally born in the USA not USA born – Mari-Lou A May 19 at 10:47
8

"American-born" means that someone was an American citizen from birth. It doesn't necessarily mean they were physically "Born in the USA."

"America-born" does mean they were physically born in the USA. For most countries, that does not necessarily mean they are a citizen of the country where they were born, but the USA is an exception to that general rule, because of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Note: there are a few exceptions to the US "citizenship by birthright" rule, such as children of foreign diplomats working at embassies in the USA who are not born inside the embassy itself (which does not count as "US territory") but in a hospital which is in US territory.

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    Sorry, but it's a myth that embassies in a country are not part of that country's territory. Embassies in the US are absolutely US territory; the US just agrees not to enforce its laws there. A child who is born in an embassy in the USA was born in the USA just as much as a child who was born in the hospical next door. If a diplomat has a child in the US, that child is not born a US citizen because of the immigration status of the parents, regardless of the exact location of birth. – David Richerby May 18 at 19:51
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    Also, I think this answer is wrong on the more important points. To me, "America-born" sounds flat-out ungrammatical and I'd lke to see examples justifying this usage. I certainly wouldn't say "Britain-born" to mean "born in Britain, regardless of whether they were born a British citizen", as distinct from "British born", meaning "born a Britich citizen, regardless of where they were actually born". I don't think "America(n)-born" is any different. – David Richerby May 18 at 19:54
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    I think that "American-born" does normally mean exactly born within the Geographical US, and does not indicate citizenship. A diplomats child would be said to be "American born" even though such a person was never a US citizen. This answer is in my view fundamentally incorrect. – David Siegel May 19 at 1:58
  • @DavidRicherby You would typically only use "America-born" for the rare person who was born in the USA but not American from birth, so you will rarely hear the term. You would probably use "born in the UK" for anyone, well, born in the UK. "Born in the USA" is used to express anything from patriotism to nationalism, and that child born to French embassy staff would likely not use that term. – gnasher729 May 19 at 17:21
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    @gnasher729 So you're arguing that I've never heard "America-born" because it's unusual to be born in the USA without being a citizen. OK, but most countries don't have birthright citizenship, so it's much more common for somebody to be born there without being a citizen. And yet I've never heard "Britain-born", "France-born", "China-born" or any other example of this ungrammatical-sounding construction. For example, googling "Britain-born" gives no relevant hits, except for a claim on a forum. "America-born" also seems not to give relevant hits. – David Richerby May 19 at 18:11
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"American-born" is the common phrase.

Firstly, it's best to think of it as as a set phrase that refers to citizenship, rather than country of birth. While you might be understood if you say "America-born," the phrase will sound odd to a native speaker, and most people will simply assume that you meant to say "American-born" and attribute it to a fluency error.

Secondly, a searchable term for the second part of compound words like American-born is a hyphenated suffix. Hyphens have several uses, one of which is to connect modifying words, especially when needed to clarify or separate words that could be parsed incorrectly. For example, consider the sentence fragments below:

  1. American born abroad.

    Someone who is currently an American citizen but who was born outside the USA. They may or may not have been an American citizen at birth.

  2. American-born abroad.

    A person (or people, plural; the fragment is ambiguous without context) currently living or traveling outside the United States. This person was an American citizen at birth.

In practical usage, the hyphen here syntactically allows the grammatical but non-colloquial phrase born as an American to be converted from a verb plus modifying clause into a single compound word. In either case, American is actually eliding "American citizen." Therefore, a native speaker would generally understand American-born to mean "born (as) an American citizen."

Because English is a satellite-framing language, phrases that denote motion or manner often require or imply a preposition or prepositional phrase. If it helps, you can think of American-born as meaning "born into American citizenship."

"America-born" is not a common phrase.

While probably grammatical for certain usages, the phrase "America-born" is simply not one that you are likely to hear or read. If you wanted to say that a non-US citizen was born in the USA, you would say something like A <nationality> born in the US. The nationality would generally be expressed as an adjective like Chinese, Canadian, or Dutch (implying the noun citizen).

There are some exceptions. For example, you're more likely to hear "An Irishman/Scotsman born in the US" than something more contorted like "An Irish UK citizen born in the USA." Nevertheless, such phrases are still generally understood to reflect citizenship rather than cultural or racial identity. When talking about identity, the phrase is generally <adjective>-American such as Irish-American, African-American, and so forth.

  • Thanks. Curious why isn't this the best answer. Sorry but I can only give you one uptick. – B Chen May 18 at 23:15
  • I would say that "American-born abroad." is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, because "American-born ." iondicates place of birth, not citizenship at birth – David Siegel May 19 at 2:02
  • +1. My instinct is that American-born is equivalent to "born [as] an American [citizen]", while America-born (which is awkward) would be equivalent to "born in America". Unless the word "born" is being used in the sense of "carried". – Wayne May 19 at 14:38
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    @Wayne Borne (the past participal of bear) is the homonym that means carried or transmitted. Born without the terminal "e" never has that connotation, but it's a very common error. – CodeGnome May 19 at 14:47
  • Yikes, I thought it wasn't that simple, but my online dictionary was in thesaurus mode rather than dictionary mode. You're right. (Though it's interesting to read that they're both related to "bear". And it also makes me now think that the book/movie Bourne Identity was a play on "Borne Identity".) – Wayne May 19 at 15:18
4

You'd best regard it as an idiom.

There is no logical reason why you shouldn't say "America born": it's exactly parallel to "factory made". We just don't.

  • I'm not sure this parallel is right. There's no commonly used adjective meaning "related to factories". For example, you'd say "a factory worker" but not "an America worker". – David Richerby May 18 at 19:55
  • I'm not sure the existence or absence of an adjective is relevant. How about industry standard. (not industrial standard) . Or are you claiming that the past participle is crucial too? – Colin Fine May 18 at 22:12
  • Industry/industrial is a good example. I guess the participle is important, since it would be "industrially made", not "industry-made" or "industrial-made". I'm still not sure the parallel is right, but I'm not prepared to say it's wrong! English is hard. Let's go shopping. – David Richerby May 18 at 22:17
  • Yes, we can say "factory made" but I'm not familiar with the expression "China made", it's always "Made in China", likewise it's normally born in the USA not USA born. However, something can be silver or gold plated, but not silvered plated and golden plated also sounds odd. I think English rejects compounds consisting of two past participles but there may well be exceptions. – Mari-Lou A May 19 at 10:54
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Perhaps there is a distinction between country of birth and citizenship at birth? To be honest, I think it's ambiguous: I would avoid describing myself as British-born or German-born (I was born in Germany with British citizenship) because I don't think it would communicate clearly. But I would tend to assume in the absence of clarification that "British-born" refers to citizenship, not to geography: I was born British in Germany.

  • I doubt there's any such distinction. If somebody said that you were "Germany-born", you'd reject that as ungrammatical. – David Richerby May 18 at 21:51
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In comparison to another phrase mentioned; another factor to consider: "factory" is not a proper noun, but a common one. On the other side, "America" is a proper noun. The country in question is always a proper name as well, and in English, proper names cannot be modified by an article or other determinants. Nor do they modify other words.

This carries over, in that we also say "American made" or "French made", rather than "America made" or "France made" when referring to the manufacture of items. We would say "France made a mistake" to refer to the government of France doing something, but not "France-made clothing". The other difference is that in "France made a mistake" it is a noun + action structure.

By understanding them as proper names it should become clear that the supposed alternative phrases must be ungrammatical. The word "America" refers to the country itself, while "American" refers to being of or related to the country called "America". Proper names are simply not adjectives or modifiers - they refer to a specific thing. The prase "factory made" uses a common noun, which can be used in this way because it isn't a specific reference. One exception here is that you might say "Dearborne made", but this exception exists because there is no general referential term meaning "from, of, or related to Dearborne"; ie. China -> Chinese, France -> French, Dearborne -> ____.

  • Dearborne is a city? You should explain that or provide a more famous example. – David Richerby May 20 at 8:45

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