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I always thought that the correct structure to talk about the population of a country is "Country + 's + population", for example, the UK's population and France's population.

However, searching Google for "the UK population", I also found that people do use it as well. link

So, why can't we say "France population", but we can say "the UK population"? Is that because "UK" in "the UK population" functions as an adjective?

P.S. I feel that this has something to do with the difference between using "population" to refer to "the people in the UK" and "the number of people in the UK". You can discuss this using the two made-up examples below:

15% of the UK’s population were over 65 years of age in 1985.
15% of the UK population were over 65 years of age in 1985

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    I'd be happy with either
    – James K
    Commented May 24 at 5:48
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    Maybe the rule is that you can only use the country name attributively if it's an acronym? Like, "the UK population," "the US population," and "the EU population" all sound fine to me, but never "the Spain population," "the Germany population," or "the China population." Commented May 24 at 6:11
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    @QuackE.Duck - since I don't pronounce 'UK' as 'uck', 'US' as 'uss', and 'EU' as 'yew', I wouldn't call those three initialisms 'acronyms'. Also the European Union (English name) is not a 'country'. In the case of nations whose shortened, informal forms are not initialisms, I'd be able to use 'the' followed by the adjective form, ('the French population') or else 'the population of Name'. Commented May 24 at 7:12
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    @Mari-LouA -nations and some other entities have formal or full names, e.g. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The United States of America, and 'European Union' in 24 languages, used in official documents, legislation, etc, and informal, sometimes initialised/abbreviated versions: UK, USA, EU (in France l'Union européenne or l'UE) for short in conversation, news stories, etc. Commented May 24 at 8:21
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    In AmE, "the American {something}" typically refers to "the US {something}" and we use "the Central American..." and "the South American ..." and "the Canadian..." when not referring to the US. "North American" encompasses the US and Canada. Isn't that the way it goes also in BrE?
    – TimR
    Commented May 24 at 9:16

1 Answer 1

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Either is fine; just two different ways of referring to the same thing.

  • "The UK's population", using the possessive, is the population belonging to the UK.
  • "The UK population" is a noun phrase, using the name of the country as a modifier to label the noun 'population', distinguishing it from other populations that you may refer to.

As to why "France population" isn't acceptable - this is just due to linguistic conventions. We'd say either "France's population" or "the French population". The United Kingdom is a sovereign state made up of constituent countries and likewise, we would say "British population", not "Britain population". There isn't a single-word adjective that directly translates to "United Kingdom" in the same way "French" does for France and "British" does for Britain. And, as "UK" is commonly used as a label for those countries collectively it just works as a modifier in the noun phrase.

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  • Do you have any idea why Grammarly suggests that I change were to was in my first example? Commented May 24 at 11:50
  • @anIELTSlearner Here's one for you: Percentages that are placed at the beginning of sentences should be written out in full. Fifteen percent of the population etc.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 24 at 12:48
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    @lambie No that's nonsense - there's no such rule in grammar. It was pre-2019 Associated Press style guide rules to write it that way, but since then the % sign is preferred. Also, UK press guides prefer "per cent" when writing it out.
    – Astralbee
    Commented May 24 at 13:44
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    I have no idea why this is the case, but if we were talking about the United States of America then I would readily accept "the US population" but "the USA population" would sound wrong. Not sure if that's just me.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 24 at 15:44
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    This is nitpicky, but I'm compelled to point out that, while British is the correct demonym, if you say Britain, you are technically excluding Northern Ireland. Depending on the political situation, people can take offense to inadvertent exclusions like this, although non-native English speakers are likely to get some leeway.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented May 24 at 17:47

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