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  • Adjectives without nouns

    Grammar chart illustrating the use of adjectives without a noun to denote groups of people, including examples and nationality adjectives ending in -ch, -sh, -ese, or -ss.

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    Well-known groups of people

    We can use the + adjective (without a noun) when we are referring to certain groups of people in general. For example, when we want to talk about people who are deaf, we can say the deaf as an alternative to deaf people. You can see some examples below.

    • The government is going to provide more help for the mentally ill
    • New taxation system doesn’t help the poor
    • The rich vote Republican in the US. 
    • They have organised a marathon support the blind
    • The jobless are losing hope of finding a good job. 
    • This tradition has existed for centuries to keep the memory of the dead
    • Their organisation raises money to help the handicapped

    Other common adjectives used in this way are the deaf, the young, the disabled, the old, the needy, the divorced, the illiterate, etc.

    Note that in English, we don’t use the article the when we are referring to things or people in general. We say I love flowers (NOT the flowers) when we talk about flowers in general. For this reason, when we use adjectives without nouns, as described above, we can always use two different structures:

    • The + adjective (without a noun): the rich, the blind, the young, etc.
    • Adjective + people (without the): rich people, blind people, young people, etc.


    The + -ch, -sh, -ese, -ss

    We can use the + nationality adjective ending in -ch, -sh, -ese, or -ss to refer to all people of that nationality.

    • The English like their privacy. (=English people)
    • The Swiss are voting on emigration again. (=Swiss people)
    • The Chinese are unhappy about the new system. (=Chinese people)

    The + plural noun

    Most other nationality words are nouns. The plural form is the same as the adjective + -s. With these nouns, we can use the + plural noun to refer to all the people of that nationality.

    • The Belgians are known for their excellent chocolate. 
    • The Brazilians were shocked after their national team’s defeat. 
    • The demonstrators were shouting, “Greece belongs to the Greeks.”

    Singular reference with -ch, -sh, -ese, -ss: an Englishman.

    When we want to refer to one person from a specific country, if the nationality adjective ends in –ch, -sh, -ese, or -ss, we must add -man or -woman after it. We say an Englishman or an Englishwoman (NOT an English blank), a Frenchman or a Frenchwoman (NOT a French blank), an Irishman or an Irishwoman (NOT an Irish blank), etc.

    There are several nationality adjectives ending in -ch, -sh, -ese, and -ss that have special nouns to refer to a person from the country. We say a Spaniard (NOT a Spanishman blank), a Dane (NOT a Danishwomanblank), a Finn, a Scot, a Pole, a Swede, a Turk, etc.

    When a special word exists, there are two possible ways of referring to all people of a nationality:

    • The + adjective: the Spanish, the Polish, the Swedish, etc.
    • The + plural noun: the Spaniards, the Poles, The Swedes, etc.

    Singular reference for other nationalities

    For other nationalities, the singular noun is normally the same as the adjective: Belgian → a Belgian, Moroccan → a Moroccan, etc.