Correct use of articles with nationalities


Why do you think Italians are so good at football?

Why shouldn't we put "the" before Italians? It's a concrete group of people.

Another example:

Americans speak English differently to the British.

Why "the" only before British?

British employers have to check that ...

Why not The British ... ?


Posted 2016-02-16T10:55:40.017

Reputation: 55



If there were a training camp for footballers and there were British, French and Italians participating, then the statement "Why do you think the Italians are so good at football?" would imply the Italians that are at the training camp. The use of the definite article implies a specific group (the Italians who are at the camp), whereas not using the article implies a general group (Italians, in general).

It is possible to use the definite article when referring to all Italians, but it is more idiomatic not to use it.

No'am Newman

Posted 2016-02-16T10:55:40.017

Reputation: 964

OK but why is it always "Why do you think the British are so good at football?" whether you're talking about British people in general or the specific British people at the camp? And the same for "French". – David Richerby – 2016-08-05T09:26:03.737

@DavidRicherby: In this case, 'The British' is a contraction of 'The British people', where British is an adjective. It would also be possible to say 'Why do you think British people are so good ...', but not 'Why do you think British are so good ...' - the latter statement has a bare adjective which is does not relate to anything. The adjective 'British' and the collective noun 'British' are the same, whereas adjective 'Italian' and collective noun 'Italians' are not. 'French' is like 'British'. – No'am Newman – 2016-08-06T04:37:00.750

No. "The British" is not a contraction of anything, and in the sentence "The British play football", "British" is a noun. – David Richerby – 2016-08-06T11:45:07.277


English has the concept of a "determiner", or a word in front of X to separate X from a bigger group. Articles are determiners.

When you are talking about X in general, or all X, or any X, the determiner is not needed unless you want to emphasize that fact.

Why do you think Italians are so good at football?

We don't care which Italians, so no determiner needed.

Why do you think the Italians are so good at football.

Here, we are separating "Italians" from a bigger group. The bigger group here is not in the sentence so without additional context we have to guess. Likely the bigger group here is multiple or all possible ethnicities.

Americans speak English differently to the British.

The speaker here feels no need to talk about a separate group of Americans, he/she is talking about Americans in general. The speaker doesn't care which Americans.

With regard to British - there's a couple things going on:

  • Does the speaker care which "British"? Probably not, but the is emphasizing that "British" is a separate group from Americans.

  • English really prefers singular nouns to have determiners or articles of some sort, because when we talk about a singular noun 99% of time we have a specific instance in mind. To talk about a noun in general the plural is usually used.

  • American can be both a noun and am adjective. British is only an adjective. Adjectives can be used as nouns, e.g. the red = the red one or the rich = the rich people. But you really need the article to signify that it's a noun in that case.


Posted 2016-02-16T10:55:40.017

Reputation: 31 841


We, non-native English speaking teachers, teach our students that nationality words meaning all the people of a particular country/nation ending in fricatives are used with the definite article: the Dutch, the Swedish etc


Posted 2016-02-16T10:55:40.017

Reputation: 11


**- The article "an" can be placed before the words that starts with consonant but it depends on the pronunciation of that word.


  1. He is an Spanish boy. (Spaniard is the correct word if used as a citizenship or nationality and similarly it is used as an adjective so "a" should be used)

  2. He's done with an spelling mistake.

Illustrating the above two examples The first one i.e 1 "He is an Spanish boy" is wrong because Spanish is an adjective for people, language or culture and it may be referred to Specific group (Plural). So a and an both cannot be used. On the other hand, second sentence, an article "an" before the word "spelling" is correct as its pronunciation starts with /ˈspɛlɪŋ/ as its starting letter sounds vowel. So it is correct to place "an" before the words which starts with the vowel sounds. ** ------------------------------------------------------------------------**


Posted 2016-02-16T10:55:40.017

Reputation: 1

1This misunderstands the question, which is not about a or an but about whether to use an article at all. – Chenmunka – 2017-06-02T10:48:40.353


"Americans" and "Italians" are the plural form of "American" and "Italian", while "British" can be used either in the singular ("You are British") or plural ("The British are...").

Basically the "the" is to identify that you are referring to the plural form of the word. (The same would apply to "The French", "The Portuguese" etc.)


Posted 2016-02-16T10:55:40.017

Reputation: 227

Sorry, I don't get it. Itialians are a concrete group, so why it shouldn't be the Italians ? – Ponb – 2016-02-16T11:24:17.047

You can use "the Italians", it's just not required as the word "Italians" has a single meaning. "British" has multiple meanings, so we use "the" when referring to the group of people. "I am Italian, my group of people are known as Italians" compared to "I am British, my group of people are known as the British". – Robin – 2016-02-16T12:11:04.067

"You are British" doesn't use a singular noun. In that sentence, "British" is an adjective (compare "You are happy"). "British" cannot be used as a singular noun: it is either an adjective (meaning "from Britain" or "from the UK") or a plural noun (meaning "the people from Britain/the UK"). – David Richerby – 2016-08-06T11:47:32.273