Why can we say he's American or he's an American

but we can only say he's Polish and he's a Polish is wrong?

Is't the say with for instance French?


1 Answer 1


The are no rules. Some adjectives of nationality can be treated as nouns, an American, a Canadian, a Russian; others cannot: a Chinese, a Japanese, a British. You have to learn and research. That could include studying a list like the one here

From that site:

In some cases, a nationality or regional noun may be negatively corrolated for some people, for historic or political reasons. When this is the case, many people will not use it, but will instead use a more neutral adjective + "people" formulation or "people from" + country name. This is the case for the examples with an asterisk below. Alternative formulations, less likely to give offense, are given in parentheses.

  • 2
    In case of people from Poland there is a noun: "Pole". There is even a joke, where 3 polish mathematicians try to steal an airplane. They go into the cockpit and one starts to try to figure out how to start start the plane. One of the others urges him to hurry up and he answers: "I'm just a simple pole in a complex plane." (Mathematicians laugh at this point.)
    – bakunin
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 11:16
  • 1
    Or, similar: "What is the value of the contour integral over western Europe?" A: Zero, there are no poles in western Europe. Corrollary (this joke is quite old, Poland was not a member of the EU back then): Actually, there are few poles in western Europe, but they are removable.
    – bakunin
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 11:18
  • @bakunin Until I had it explained to me, I was genuinely puzzled as a 1950s London small child, to hear my parents, who had both served in the air force during the war, talk about 'poles' that they had known and liked. Also our next-door neighbours, who had a beautiful daughter the same age as me. Janina. This last fact makes me feel a certain kind of wistful regret for what might have been. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 11:27
  • Increasingly these days we see Chinese used as a noun. Witness many printed instances of the sequence a Chinese who - nearly all of which will be references to a Chinese person. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 13:11

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