Should you use "the" when writing uncountable nationality adjectives?


Example sentence:

(The) Japanese have been doing business with (the) Chinese for a very long time.

(Maybe using "the" is a bit offensive?)


Posted 2018-08-02T06:04:25.330

Reputation: 4 803

If you had to add a noun after "Japanese" or "Chinese", what would it be? – user3169 – 2018-08-02T06:14:13.870



There is nothing intrinsically offensive about the following noun phrases: the Japanese, the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Nepalese, etc.

It's not idiomatic (or natural) to say a Japanese, a Chinese, a Portuguese, a Nepalese, etc. to refer to a single Japanese / Chinese / Portuguese / Nepalese / etc. person. These expressions are also not offensive; they are simply not used in English. However, a Japanese / Chinese / Portuguese / Nepalese / etc. person/student/man/woman/child all sound idiomatic (natural).

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English has the following entries:

the Chinese

people from China

the Japanese

people from Japan

So, these simply mean people from China and Japan, respectively.

The following sentence,

  1. The Japanese have been doing business with the Chinese for a very long time.

is completely grammatical and idiomatic. Japanese and Chinese are adjectives. They're heads of their respective noun phrases. Did you say noun phrases? Yes, it's an odd phenomenon, because usually you have nouns heading noun phrases (e.g., in a pretty girl, girl is a noun, and functions as head of that noun phrase), but some adjectives can be used this way as well; namely, poor, rich, free, gifted, Chinese, Japanese, etc.

This special construction where an adjective functions as fused modifier-head has a couple of interesting properties. One such property is that no other determiner other than the is permitted; for example, a poor / Chinese / gifted wouldn't be grammatical. Another property (with few exceptions) is that the entire noun phrase is plural, which means you can't say the rich / Japanese / free has something.

  1. Japanese have been doing business with Chinese for a very long time.

Once again, Japanese and Chinese are adjectives which normally function as attributive modifiers in these positions in a sentence – except there aren't any nouns they might modify: Japanese companies have been doing business with Chinese companies for a very long time would be okay because now there are nouns in that sentence which these adjectives modify.

Moreover, these adjectives aren't functioning as fused modifier-heads either. We can see that because the isn't present in these supposed noun phrases.

Sentence 2 is therefore ungrammatical.


Posted 2018-08-02T06:04:25.330


1I agree with the answer but why bother reposting the wrong one and analyzing it? Also, in your second paragraph, you say A Japanese is not natural, then you say it is. Perhaps you *forgot*: A Japanese person, man, woman, child, citizen, etc? Right? – Lambie – 2018-08-02T15:25:40.710

@Lambie Oh, I see what you mean. Sorry, I edited that part so many times because I wasn't sure whether to use forward slashes or what, and then I somehow lost the crucial word there. – None – 2018-08-02T15:44:10.427

No worries. It happens to me all the time. – Lambie – 2018-08-02T16:09:20.583


I can think of two things.

Firstly, if you want to address the people of Japan in a general way, you may omit the article.

Japanese love sports.

But, if you are specific about those people, you put the.

The Japanese did better in the finals.

Secondly, words like Russians and Germans don't need 'the' because they are undoubtedly nouns. On the other hand, French and English are nouns and adjectives (French dishes). So, to distinguish between them, the definite article is needed.

Nevertheless, in your case, the context is clear as you want to address them in general, hence, I'd not put any article.

Japanese have been doing business with Chinese for a very long time.

Maulik V

Posted 2018-08-02T06:04:25.330

Reputation: 66 188

Thanks for the answer. By "people" you mean all Japanese/Chinese people, or a group of them? – alex – 2018-08-02T07:36:36.430

3I can't agree with your conclusion; though I'm no grammarian so it's just "it sounds wrong to me". 'The' ought to be there in all cases except the 2 language adj. references, for me. – gone fishin' again. – 2018-08-02T07:36:45.550

@alex people, the citizens of the countries. – Maulik V – 2018-08-02T08:11:36.757

@Tetsujin at least Indian newspapers put that way. And, note that, I'm not completely against the article.

– Maulik V – 2018-08-02T08:13:32.390

1Neither of those examples supports your theory or disagrees with mine. The newspaper is using 'headline-ese' & the other I don't see any relation to the question, except that it does use a definite article, 'this'. – gone fishin' again. – 2018-08-02T08:27:20.283

What headlines..check the beginning @tetsujin and we all know once you introduce a subject, you use definite article. I found a pen, the pen was red. that's why the body has the definite article. Again, I'm not against that. – Maulik V – 2018-08-02T11:33:29.407

1Hmm... yes. Looks horrible. – gone fishin' again. – 2018-08-02T11:34:55.813