Is Vietnamese a noun or an adjective?


If I say I am Vietnamese. Is Vietnamese a noun or an adjective? According to OALD, Vietnamese can be a noun or an adjective. If it’s a noun, why don’t we say I am a Vietnamese? Because its meaning is a person from Vietnam.


Posted 2018-10-04T04:06:32.853

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The ODO says

Relating to Vietnam, its people, or their language.
‘He liked Asian people, Vietnamese people in particular, and their culture, considerably more than he liked Australian culture.’
‘We were representing a Saturday morning Vietnamese language school.’

1 A native or inhabitant of Vietnam, or a person of Vietnamese descent.
‘From the 1400s on, the Cambodians lost territory to both the Siamese and the Vietnamese.’

2 [mass noun] The language of Vietnam, spoken by about 60 million people. It probably belongs to the Mon-Khmer group, although much of its vocabulary is derived from Chinese.
‘Lady Borton, who speaks Vietnamese, finds the atmosphere far more hospitable now than in the early years of independence.’


I am Vietnamese.

Vietnamese is an adjective. This is the correct way to say that you are from Vietnam.

Vietnamese can be a noun in certain usages. There is the usage when referring to the language in NOUN 2, and there is the usage in NOUN 1,

The Vietnamese are known for their exquisite cuisine.

Notice the usage of the definite article. This is what the Cambridge Dictionary says on the matter:


  • used before some adjectives to turn the adjectives into nouns that refer to people or things in general that can be described by the adjective:
    She lives in a special home for the elderly.
    The French were defeated at Waterloo in 1815.

There is also

?I am a Vietnamese.

The Cambridge Dictionary suggests this usage is grammatically fine:

Nationalities, languages, countries and regions
from English Grammar Today
When we refer to a nation or region, we can use:
– a singular noun that we use for a person from the country or region: a Turk, a Japanese, a German, a Brazilian, an Asian

However, in my opinion, at best, I find this usage questionable (?) or awkward. To me, it borders on ignorant or offensive, especially if it's said about the person (e.g. ?She is a Vietnamese). That's why you're less likely to hear it. So although it is grammatical, my recommendation is to reword it (e.g. She is/I am Vietnamese).

Note that the issue is with the singular noun with the meaning in NOUN 1 above and that it is not unique to "Vietnamese". I did not intend to provide an exhaustive list, nor do I intend this to be a perfect rule, but my cursory observation is that the usage of the indefinite article with -ese, -ish, and -ic forms is awkward or incorrect (*): *a Vietnamese, *a Chinese, *a British, *an Arabic. There are also other cases, such as *a French and *a Dutch.

You can find a longer list of nationality adjectives here. The issues have also been discussed on ELU and ELL in the following:


Posted 2018-10-04T04:06:32.853

Reputation: 44 188

+1 for pointing out the 'awkwardness' – CinCout – 2018-10-04T05:05:57.207

4To be clear, Vietnamese is fine as a plural noun, but awkward as a singular noun. – Andrew – 2018-10-04T05:11:12.743

10The usage depends on the nationality referred to. It is clearly wrong to say "I am an English" or "I am a French", compared with "I am an Englishman", etc. But it is perfectly correct to say either "I am a German" or "I am German" - German can be either a noun or an adjective. The only English noun for "a Vietnamese person" is "a Vietnamese". To say "I am a Vietnamese person" or "I am a Vietnamese man/woman/boy/girl" is clumsy. – alephzero – 2018-10-04T09:36:37.260

6To expand the examples from @alephzero - "I am an Italian" doesn't sound awkward to me (native BrE speaker), but "I am a Vietnamese" certainly does. – Martin Bonner supports Monica – 2018-10-04T10:37:20.720

@Andrew The Vietnamese is fine, but They are some Vietnamese sounds strange. It should be They are some Vietnamese people. – CJ Dennis – 2018-10-04T11:28:50.110


A related question to the "a Vietnamese" part - Why is “a Japanese” offensive?

– ColleenV – 2018-10-04T11:56:48.080

In tennis, commentators will often say of players the [nationality] when referring to a player. For instance, What a save by the Swiss! (referring to Roger Federer). This is more obviously true of the Brit, the Canadian, and the American, which are more commonly used in general conversation. But the same can apply to anyone. However, it's the definite article in those cases. Still, the indefinite article can be used in other contexts. – Jason Bassford – 2018-10-04T15:14:28.510

Perhaps worth noting (since this is ELL) that Vietnamese can also be used as an adjective when the noun isn't a person. A Vietnamese dish (such as Bánh canh), a Vietnamese village (a village in Vietnam), etc. – T.J. Crowder – 2018-10-04T16:48:26.533

Vietnamese is perfectly fine as a singular noun when used to refer to the Vietnamese language; but here, the word doesn't refer to the language. – reinierpost – 2018-10-04T18:03:53.973

It would be better to call "Vietnamese" in "The Vietnamese are known ... " a substantive adjective rather than a noun. It's still an adjective, but used in a place where a noun would otherwise be expected.

– chepner – 2018-10-04T19:56:11.053

If ‘ I am a Vietnamese’ is awkward, what should I say if I refer to a number of Vietnamese? For example, there are a lot of people from diffenrent countries in a room and two of them are Vietnamese, so can I say ‘there are two Vietnamese in the room’? – Thanhgiang – 2018-10-05T00:02:00.483

@Thanhgiang In my opinion, that is also awkward. Also, to me, using the definite article when referring to one person is awkward (*I am the Vietnamese who...). I don't know how common those feelings are. I think some people might disagree. In your example, I would say "There are two Vietnamese people in the room. There is one/a Vietnamese person in the room." Note that "Vietnamese" is an adjective in those examples, and so "a Vietnamese person" and "Vietnamese people" are okay. – Em. – 2018-10-05T00:15:14.217

@Thanhgiang I realized something else might not be clear. It is not offensive if you (a non-native speaker) say it. If you say it, it just sounds awkward or incorrect. However, here is a simplified example. If a native speaker calls you "a Vietnamese" (e.g. "She is a Vietnamese"), then it can sound offense. It can possibly be interpreted as bigotry or racism. If someone called my dear Vietnamese friend "a Vietnamese", I would be very upset. That's what I meant. Please let me know if you still need clarification. :) – Em. – 2018-10-08T01:24:39.340


According to Oxford learner's dictionaries about Vietnamese, Vietnamese is a noun and an adjective too.

1. Vietnamese is an adjective:

To answer a question like "What nationality are you?". You will answer this question:

I am Vietnamese.

In this case, it is used as an adjective like:

  • I am American
  • I am Italian
  • I am French

To mention Vietnamese people, add "the" before "Vietnamese".There are some example:

The Vietnamese were very friendly and kind.

You can use "the Vietnamese" in following case:

I am the Vietnamese who sang the USA national anthem yesterday.

2. Vietnamese is a noun:

You can use "a Vietnamese" to show a sentiment (a pride or a shame)

I am a Vietnamese and I don't want anybody to criticize my country

N. H. Tung

Posted 2018-10-04T04:06:32.853

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