Confusion with Nationality Suffixes – Week in Review

May 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

Today is Friday, so it’s the Week in Review. 

Happy Friday, everyone! Welcome to the DailyCast from Hello, I’m Cory Renzella, and thank you for listening.

Friday is a good day to stop and talk about some grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation points from the week’s stories.

This week, had stories from Finland, Mexico, Spain, and even one from almost every country in the world, with the story about Coca-Cola!

So, our stories are often about different places and the people living in those places. When we talk about people, we often refer to them by their nationalities.

For example, since I’m from the United States, my nationality is American. Your nationality might be Japanese, Canadian, or Spanish.

Recently, I was thinking about the English words that we use for different nationalities, and I realized that, like many other aspects, or parts, of the English language, these words can be very confusing. Here’s what I mean:

When you’re talking about a nationality, you usually take the name of the country and add a suffix, or ending, to it. As I said, I’m from America, so I’m an American. If you’re from Japan, then you’re Japanese; and if you’re from Spain, then you’re Spanish.

But why do we use these different suffixes? Why do we use the “–an” suffix for “American”, the “–ese” suffix for “Japanese”, and the “–ish” suffix for “Spanish”?

It all seems confusing, doesn’t it? Even native English speakers, like me, don’t always know the correct suffixes to use for some nationalities.

So, I decided to do some research about nationality suffixes. It was actually interesting for me, and I think it might be interesting and useful for you. Here’s what I found:

There are eight commonly used nationality suffixes in English, and they are:

  1. –er; for example, “New Zealander”
  2. –ian; for example, “Brazilian”, “Australian”, and “Italian”
  3. –ean; for example, “Korean” and “Belizean”
  4. –an; for example, “Kenyan”, “South African”, and “Mexican”
  5. –ese; for example, “Chinese”, “Taiwanese”, and “Vietnamese”
  6. –ish; for example, “Swedish”, “Spanish”, “British”, and “Irish”
  7. –i; for example, “Iraqi” and “Israeli”; and finally,
  8. –ic; for example, “Icelandic”

Although these are the eight most commonly used suffixes, there are a handful of, or a few, nationalities that don’t end in any of them! For example, people from Switzerland are “Swiss”, those from Greece are “Greek”, and those from France are “French”.

Despite all of this, sometimes, the suffixes seem to make sense. For example, the “–i” suffix is used for Middle Eastern nationalities, like “Qatari” and “Saudi”.

But it’s not always used for Middle Eastern nationalities, because people from Iran aren’t “Irani”, they’re “Iranian”. And people from Jordan aren’t “Jordani”, they’re “Jordanian”.

Another example is the “–ese” suffix. At first, you might think that it is used to describe all Asian nationalities, like “Japanese”, “Chinese”, “Taiwanese”, and “Vietnamese”.

But again, that’s not always true! People from Singapore are “Singaporeans”, and those from Malaysia are “Malaysians”. And even though they aren’t Asian, people from Portugal, a European country, also use the “–ese” suffix; they’re Portuguese!

Why are there so many different nationality suffixes, and why are they so confusing to use?

I wish that I could tell you a clear and simple answer, but I can’t. What I can tell you, however, is that there seem to be a lot of historical, cultural, and linguistic, or language-related, reasons for these different suffixes.

So, the only thing that’s really clear about nationality suffixes is that they aren’t very clear!


If you would like to read more about nationality suffixes, I’ve included a link to an interesting article that discusses them. Even though I wasn’t able to give you any helpful hints or useful ways to remember the different suffixes, I hope that this was interesting and informative for you. I know that it was for me!

Remember, if you have any questions or comments about something that I’ve said today or earlier this week, send me an e-mail or leave a comment on our website. Also, we’ve got some interesting posts on our Facebook page, so please “like” on Facebook! And, follow us on Twitter. is “Your English Window to the World”, and wherever you are in the world, I hope that you have a good day. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again this weekend. Bye-bye.


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