Do we call a person from China "a Chinese"?

For example, can I say: I have a friend, he is a Chinese?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ColleenV Dec 20 '17 at 23:06

He is a Chinese is okay, just like She is a Portuguese is okay. But probably most native English speakers prefer to say He's Chinese and She's Portuguese.

See the Wikitionary usage note about a Chinese:

As with all nouns formed from -ese, the countable singular form ("I am a Chinese") is uncommon and often taken as incorrect, although it is rather frequent in East Asia as a translation for the demonyms written 中国人 in Chinese characters or Japanese kanji.

The word Chinese is both an adjective and a noun.

Someone who is from China is a Chinese (noun) or is Chinese (adjective).

However, it's more common to use Chinese as an adjective i.e. he is Chinese.

  • I've never heard this in English. He is Chinese. It would sound odd to my ear to hear he is a Chinese. I am in the US and 53, for what that's worth. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 22 '16 at 22:05
  • He's a Chinese is correct grammatically. It sounds odd to you because he is Chinese is more comon and usual. – Khan Jun 22 '16 at 23:27
  • 2
    No... we do not say "he is a Chinese"... We might say "he is a Chinese man"... but polite people do not say "he is a Chinese". – Catija Jun 22 '16 at 23:34
  • @Khan - I never said wrong. I was only trying to understand what English speaking country finds that usage normal. I know there are many countries that speak English, and usage is different amongst us. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 22 '16 at 23:38

To describe your friend from China, you would say

He is Chinese.
He is a Chinese (person)

although the first gets used more often.

More formally, the Immigration authorities might say

He is a Chinese national.
he has a Chinese passport

if he was the only Chinese in your school, you might say

He is the Chinese at our school.

  • 2
    "He is the Chinese at our school" - I would never say that. It sounds clunky, ungrammatical, and likely to offend. (I'm a native speaker from England.) . If he's the only Chinese person at your school, then say "He is the only Chinese person at our school". Your construction is ungrammatical because "the Chinese" usually refers to an entire group of people, so you're saying "He is <a group of people> at our school" which makes no sense. – Ewan Mellor Jun 22 '16 at 16:26
  • It gets used with emphasis on "the", which can have a meaning of "top" (possibly more AmE?) just as "He is the debater at our school" (top debater), "She is the math wiz". Using "He is the only Chinese person at our school" is grammatically correct and does get used, but also explicitly singles out that person and can make them sound lonely. – Peter Jun 22 '16 at 18:10

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