We Communicate Freely: Peculiarities of English Names for Countries and Nationalities

Elly Kim7 min
Created: Feb 29, 2024Last updated: Feb 29, 2024
Nacionalidades en inglés

Everyone likes to talk about travels, countries, and nations... But how do you explain in English to a foreigner that you are thinking about the development of Angola, the culture of the Laotians, or the difficulty of learning Swahili if you don't even have an idea how to translate these names? Therefore, it's important to know what the place where you are from or the person talking to you is called. Below we will talk about nationalities in English, as well as their use characteristics.

The Importance of Knowing Different Nations

When we talk about countries and nationalities in English, there are some peculiarities to keep in mind. Proper use is not only a sign of literacy but also a sign of respect for various cultures. It might seem complicated, but it's interesting to learn various nuances, and some names might surprise you.

In conversations about countries and nationalities in English, it's important to remember that for English speakers, the word "nationality" does not imply ethnic belonging but citizenship. It's an official word and is not often used in daily speech. In a conversation, they will ask you:

  • Where are you from?/Where do you come from? (¿De dónde eres?)
  •  I am from Chile (Soy de Chile).

You can respond using the following example phrases:

  • to be + from + country (I am from Chile – Soy de Chile).
  • to be + nationality (I am Chilean – Soy chileno).

If we want to talk about the origin, alphabetical or regional organization, or ethnic roots, we use the words ethnicity, ethnic origin, and ethnic background. The questions could be:

  •  What is your ethnic background?/What is your ethnicity? (¿Quién eres de origen?).
  • I am half English, half French (Soy mitad inglés, mitad francés).

When talking about countries, it's important to use their forms correctly. For example, to refer to belonging to Germany, the word German is used. However, to refer to belonging to China, it is said Chinese, not Chinian. Also, be careful with articles. For example, they say The United States (Estados Unidos), but talk about United States citizens (ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos).

Complete List of Countries and Their Nationalities in English

In total, there are 193 countries recognized as members of the UN. There are also states with limited recognition and territories of uncertain status, such as Taiwan, Western Sahara, or South Ossetia. If they were included in the list, the total number would be 206.

However, if we were to compile them all into a single table, it would be very difficult. For this reason, we will not delve too much into politics and geography now, and first, we will limit ourselves to about 20 nationalities in English:

United StatesEstados UnidosAmericanAmericano, estadounidense
United KingdomReino UnidoBritishBritánico

Country names and their related nationalities often match: Germany – German, China – Chinese, Kenya – Kenyan, Spain – Spanish. For specifics, in addition to standard vocabulary, the English also have special nouns:

  • A Swedish man or woman is called "a Swede."
  • For residents of Finland, there is the word "a Finn".
  • A Danish man, as well as a Danish woman, can be called "a Dane."
  • The word "a Pole" is used to refer to Poles.
  • Citizens of sunny Spain are often called "Spaniards."
  • In relation to Turks, the noun "a Turk" is used.

The Netherlands–Dutch is a false friend for translators because it often mistakenly refers to Danes, although the word refers to the Dutch, and Danes in English are Danish.

How to Use Nationalities and Countries in English in Everyday Conversations

When talking about a country or region, you can use:

  • The name of the country or region: Ukraine (Ucrania), Germany (Alemania), Brazil (Brasil), Asia (Asia).
  • A singular noun used to name a person from a country or region: Argentine (argentino), Australian (australiano), Brazilian (brasileño).
  • The names of the country's population, which are always used with the article and in plural: the Turks (turcos), the Japanese (japoneses), the Germans (alemanes).
  • Adjective: German (alemán), Brazilian (brasileño), Asian (asiático).

In some cases, the article “the” is necessary before the country. You can learn all these exceptions or remember three simple rules:

  • If the name includes words that characterize the state system (state, republic, kingdom), then it needs the article (The Great Britain, The United Arab Emirates), even for abbreviated versions: the USA. But in everyday talks, you can often find options without the article: USA, US.
  • The name is plural: The Netherlands.
  • If a country consists of a group of islands: The Maldives. Generally, such names are also plural, so it's hard to go wrong.

If the name of the nationality ends in -ean/-ian-er, -i, -en, add the letter -s.

The Argentines learn to dance tango since childhood. (Los argentinos aprenden a bailar tango desde la infancia).

Note that the nationality of England and Great Britain (Gran Bretaña) are different things. A person from England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland can be called "British"(británico), but "English"(inglés) is only a native of England. The word "British man/woman"(hombre/mujer británico) is often shortened to an informal form Brit.


Tips for Remembering Different Countries

To talk about countries and their inhabitants, remember that:

  • "Ethnicity" and "Nationality" in English are different concepts.
  • Names can be formed using suffixes.
  • Most countries do not require an article, except in certain cases.

You can use images of famous places and traditional food from these countries:

  • France: the Eiffel Tower, a croissant.
  • The USA: the Statue of Liberty in New York, burgers.

By the way, countries in English and nationalities can be learned in combination with the flags. For example, when making cards, on one side will be the name, and on the other, the flag of the same country. Also, remember that in English for the Netherlands(los Países Bajos), two names are used, The Netherlands and Holland.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Nationalities in English

First of all, names are written with a capital letter. From the name of any country, you can form an adjective with the help of a specific suffix. Yes, for example, when we talk about the nationality of France in English:

  • France – Francia; French – francés.
  • He is from France. He is French. – Es de Francia. Es francés.

Many students forget about derived words and simply use the name of the country (Japan food, Spain singer, etc.). The country name cannot be an adjective; it cannot describe the nationality or the language of the country, so avoid such errors.

It should be noted that nationality in English and the language do not always match. For example, in Brazil (Brasil), although Brazilians (brasileños) live there, they speak Portuguese (portugués). The same happens with Arab countries, where nationality does not match the language (Arabic). Even more interesting about nationalities in English is learned by enrolling in an online course. We offer 1x1 English classes, both individual and group, in a warm and exciting atmosphere with pronunciation guidance.

Errors can be avoided if you follow simple rules:

  • Names, not only of countries but also of nationalities and adjectives denoting something national, are always written with a capital letter.
  • When describing an object or language, an adjective is used; to indicate nationality. If it does not match the adjective, you must use the corresponding word and, in no case, replace it with the country's name.
  • If the adjective-nationality ends in -i, -ese, -ss, -ch, -sh, then an -s is not added: the Iraqi (iraquíes), the Japanese (japoneses), the Swiss (suizos), the French (franceses), the Scottish (escoceses).
  • The use of an adjective denoting nationality, without the article “the,” is possible if the word people is added: Italian people, Chinese people, Brazilian people, Arab people.

You can always get to know all countries in English and Spanish without exception in weekly classes in our free conversation club. In addition, after registering on the website, you will receive the first 1x1 class for free, without any commitment. Our experienced tutors will help you understand all the nuances. This way, we can speak accurately and clearly, and avoid misunderstandings when talking about nationalities in English and Spanish.


Now, we know a little more about ways to talk about nationality. Remember that in online classes at Promova, you can always share cultural notes and your most exciting travels. Make friends from various countries and expand communication geography, since now you know how to ask a foreigner where they are from and what nationality they belong to.


Why learn nationalities?

Knowing countries and nationalities in English is important to be able to hold a dialogue with anyone in the world. They are part of the basic vocabulary and are often used in everyday life (especially if you are interested in travel, newspapers, and sociological research). Also, it's convenient to practice using the verb to be. And when the time comes to introduce yourself, you can do it without any problem.

How to ask about nationality?

To ask about nationality appropriately, use a construction like: Where are you/is she/are they from? (¿De dónde eres/es ella/son ellos?). This way of questioning allows you to remain as politically correct as possible, asking not strictly about nationality or ethnic origin but about the place the person considers their home.

How to grammatically correctly use names of countries and nationalities?

In English grammar, nationalities, languages, and adjectives denoting something national refer to proper nouns, so they are always written with a capital letter. When describing them, an adjective indicating nationality is used. If it does not match, look for the corresponding word and, in no case, replace it with the name of the country. When designating a people, you must use the article the.

How to quickly remember nationalities in English?

Bilingual cards, associations with the mother tongue, and sound techniques will help. Take stickers, write a word in English, and translate it. If you have a well-developed associative thought, you can also attach an image of the subject. Additionally, you can distribute notes with words in English on the main screen of your computer and constantly pronounce them. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll remember the nationalities and countries.