A: The British person I met was very friendly.

B: The British I met was very friendly.

C: The British persons I met were very friendly.

D: The British I met were very friendly.

Are B and D right? Can I use "the British" as a specific British person or specific plural British persons?

If so, is it the same with Chinese and Japanese?


4 Answers 4


In short, no. The type of subject you're thinking of is called a nominal adjective, and these are perfectly valid in English, but that's not quite how they're used.

When we refer to "the British," it means the people of Britain as an abstract body. The British like drinking tea, for instance; or, perhaps, the British are invading. You can't use nominal adjectives if you need to differentiate one British person from another; use a conventional adjective/noun pair instead.

For more about nominal adjectives, here's an article: https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Nominal-Adjectives.htm


In your first example, "British" is an adjective. Your definite article is, therefore, operating on the word "person". He is the British person you met (as opposed to every other British person).

"The British" can be used as a noun for all British people.

If you want to omit the word "person", you could use the noun "Briton". It is the equivalent of "the German", or "the Russian", although it is not used quite as often as it used to be.

Just for clarification:

Nouns: Briton, German, Russian

Adjectives: British, Germanic, Russian

  • “Germanic” is a member of one of many ancient tribes, others would be Gothic, Vandals, Burgundians, etc. You probably mean German as the adjective.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 23, 2019 at 19:26
  • Note that “Briton” is often shortened to “Brit”, at least in Leftpondia, because “Briton” sounds too much like “Britain”.
    – StephenS
    Oct 5, 2020 at 2:04
  • @StephenS Some British people consider that term rude from someone non-British. We use it as a prefix for things that are British (eg Britpop) but we don't call ourselves 'Brits'.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 5, 2020 at 7:21

While B and D might well be understood, I would call them wrong. "British" here is an adjective, and needs a noun to modify. When referring to British people in general "The British" can be short for "the British people" as in:

The British are often thought to be stiff and formal.

Even in that context, i think it poor practice, but many people write like this.

Much the same is true of other adjectives indicating a nationality or an ethnicity, such as "chinese" or "japanese" or "american".

  • D is no more wrong than saying "The great and the good." Sep 23, 2019 at 16:54

'British' can be an adjective (meaning "of Britain, or "of the United Kingdom") or it can be a noun, specifically meaning people of Britain (or the United Kingdom).

In A and C the adjectival form is being used correctly. In D the noun form is being used correctly. However B is wrong because the noun is plural, and you have to use the plural form of the verb.

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