How to talk about nationalities in French

It’s pretty easy to talk about your nationality, or nationalities in general, in French. But there are a few important rules and nuances to be aware of.

Let’s take an in-depth look at how to talk about nationalities in French!

How to talk about nationalities in French

A map of the world made of black ink printed on wood. There are blue thumbtacks in several places, probably signifying countries or cities where someone has been or dreams of visiting.

The most important rule for talking about nationalities in French has to do with capitalization:

When a nationality is being used as a noun, it’s always capitalized. But when a nationality is being used as an adjective, it’s always lowercase.

Here are some examples of a nationality used as a noun:

Sa voisine est une Italienne. 

(His neighbor is an Italian (woman).)

On dit que les Anglais parlent souvent du temps qu’il fait. Est-ce que vous trouvez que c’est vrai ?

(It’s said that the English often talk about the weather. Do you find that to be true?)

And here are some examples of a nationality used as an adjective. (Note that, as in English, nationalities can be used as adjectives that apply to people or to things, ideas, etc.):

Elle est sénégalaise. 

(She’s Senegalese.)

Zara est une marque espagnole. 

(Zara is a Spanish brand.)

As you may have noticed from these examples, another important rule of nationalities in French is that there’s always agreement in gender and number.

For instance:

Son père est américain, alors tous les membres de sa famille paternelle sont des Américains. 

(Her father is American, so of her family members on her father’s side are Americans.)

Il est anglais et il adore la crème anglaise.

(He’s English and he loves crème anglais.)

Il est vénézuélien et il travaille pour une entreprise vénézuélienne basée en France. 

(He’s Venezuelan and he works for a Venezuelan company based in France.)

How to make nationalities masculine and feminine in French

In French, nationalities have to agree in gender and number, so you may be wondering how to make them masculine and feminine.

Luckily, nationalities follow the same rules as most French nouns and adjectives when it comes to their masculine and feminine forms.

This means that in most cases, you would add an “e” to the end to make the nationality adjective feminine.

For example:

Son père est anglais. Sa tante est anglaise aussi. 

(His father is English. His aunt is English, too.)

Nous aimons la nourriture portugaise qu’on sert dans ce restaurant portugais.  

(We love the Portuguese food that they serve in this Portuguese restaurant.)

Note that these examples are a bit redundant for a native French speaker – they’re just a way to illustrate how the nationality adjective changes according to what it modifies.

As with French adjectives in general, there are some cases where you can’t just add an “e” to make a word feminine.

For instance:

● If the nationality ends in “c” in its masculine form, its ending becomes -que in the feminine form.

With grec (Greek), you still keep the “c” and add a -que, but for other nationalities, the “c” is dropped.

For example:

Athéna est une déesse grecque. (Athena is a Greek goddess.)

On aime la musique turque. (We like Turkish music.)

● If the nationality ends in “n”, the feminine form ends in -enne.

For example:

Céline Dion est une chanteuse canadienne. (Céline Dion is a Canadian singer.)

C’est une tradition indienne. (It’s an Indian tradition.)

● If the nationality ends in “e” in its masculine form, it remains the same in its feminine form.

For example:

Son père est belge et sa mère est suisse. (His father is Belgian and his mother is Swiss.)

Il m’a acheté une poupée russe. (He bought me a Russian doll (matryoshka).)

How to make nationality words plural in French

View of flags on flagpoles against a blue sky, seen from the ground looking up.

To make nationality nouns and adjectives plural, in most cases you’ll just add an “s”.

For instance:

C’est un Américain. (He’s an American.)

vs Ce sont des Américains. (They are Americans.)

Elle aime la musique turque. (She likes Turkish music.)

vs Elle trouve que les chansons turques ont souvent un bon rythme. (She thinks that Turkish songs often have a nice rhythm.)

If the word already ends in “s”, just leave it that way.

For instance:

Il est français. (He’s French.)

vs Ils sont français. (They are French.)

C’est un Français. (He’s a Frenchman.)

vs Les Français sont parmi les populations qui voyagent le plus. (The French are among the world populations who travel the most.)

How to talk about other places or groups of origin in French

All of these French nationality rules also apply to just about any geographical descriptor, including a person/thing/idea tied to a town or city, region, continent. They usually apply to cultural, ethnic, or religious group descriptors as well.

For instance:

La poutine est un plat québécois. (Poutine is a Quebecois dish.)

C’est une Parisienne. (She’s a Parisian.)

Le golem est une créature dans la mythologie juive. (The golem is a creature in Jewish mythology.)

Watch out for this French nationality trick!

Okay, this isn’t really a trick, but it can certainly feel like one for a non-native speaker (believe me!):

At some point, you may have to fill out a French form that asks for your nationalité (nationality). Instinctively, you may write it based on your gender. BUT since the word nationalité is feminine, you have to use the feminine adjective form of your nationality, regardless of your actual gender.  

For example: Nationalité: américaine

25 nationalities in French

Here are twenty-five nationalities in French, in their masculine and feminine forms.

Remember that if they were used as a noun, each would be capitalized and used with an article. For instance: Benjamin est français (Benjamin is French.) vs, Benjamin est un Français (Benjamin is a Frenchman.).

Where can I find more French nationality words?

You can find  more nationalities in French on this complete list of that aren’t on our list by looking up its English name in a French-English dictionary or dictionary app.

How to refer to someone’s nationality in French

A slightly out of focus open passport, with stamps from various countries on its pages.
Image credit: Henry Thong. @henryzw

When you say your nationality or someone else’s nationality in French, you typically use it as an adjective.

For example, I’m American, so I’d say Je suis américaine. Note that there’s an “e” at the end of américain, since I’m a woman. If I were a man, I’d say Je suis américain.

But it would be a bit strange to say Je suis une Américaine (I am an American), unless there were a very specific reason or context for it. If you think about it, it’s the same thing in English. A person would typically say “I’m French”, rather than “I am a French person.”

The same holds true when introducing or talking about someone else. For instance, I would say, Voici ma copine Petra. Elle est allemande. (This is my friend Petra. She’s German.) But it would be strange to say Voici ma copine Petra. C’est une Allemande. (This is my friend Petra. She’s a German.)

How to politely refer to different nationalities and groups in French

You can use many French nationality words to describe a person on their own – for instance:

C’est un Français. (He’s a Frenchman.)

Les Danois sont connus pour le concept du hygge. (The Danish/Danes are known for the concept of hygge.)

Les Japonais apprécient beaucoup les chats. Le Japon est le pays avec le plus de bars à chats au monde.  (The Japanese love cats. Japan is the country with the most cat cafes in the world.)

However, as in many – maybe all? – cultures, there’s a sad truth: calling someone by the noun form of a nationality or continent name can sometimes be perceived as derogatory. In some cases, this might depend on the speaker and tone.

It’s difficult to talk about this issue, because racism (rightfully!) makes many of us uncomfortable. But it’s important to be aware of, especially because using these terms in certain ways may make you seem racist, xenophobic, or insensitive.

As an American, for instance, I have heard people use the collective term les Américains or a phrase like C’est un Américain in a neutral or even positive way, but I’ve also heard them used negatively.

The same goes for some groups with a history of colonization by and/or immigration to mainland France.

The negativity is often stronger when a single person is being defined by their nationality or continent of origin, as opposed to using a collective term, although even that may not always hold true.

Some of the particularly charged nationality/continent words in French include:

les Chinois/un Chinois/une Chinoise

les Africains/un Africain/une Africaine

Charged words for a group can also extend to ethnicities and religions. For instance:

les Arabes/un/une Arabe

les Juifs/un Juif/une Juive

Of course, these terms can certainly be used in positive or neutral ways, and it often depends on the speaker and context. But if you don’t want your own meaning to be misunderstood, it’s probably better to use these words as adjectives.

For instance, instead of saying un Chinois, say un homme chinois. Instead of les Arabes, say le peuple Arabe.

Using these terms as nouns rather than adjectives doesn’t automatically imply a derogatory sense. After all, not all French people are racist. But it’s something to be aware of, especially in your own spoken or written French.

How to say different languages in French

A map of the world is stuck or propped on a wall. Several rolled maps are stacked standing up in front of it.

Most languages are tied to a nationality word. But keep in mind that languages in French are never capitalized and are always kept in their masculine form (even though langue (language) is a feminine word – oh French, you can be so frustrating sometimes!).

For instance:

Je parle français.

(I speak French.)

On dit que le coréen est une des langues les plus difficile à apprendre.

(It’s said that Korean is one of the most difficult languages to learn.)

But remember that when a language is paired with the word la langue (the language), it becomes feminine. That’s because in this case, it’s functioning as an adjective that modifies la langue, a feminine noun (la langue française, la langue coréenne)

I hope this article about nationalities in French has been helpful. As with just about any kind of vocabulary, the more you read and listen to French, the more familiar you’ll become with French nationality words and how to use them.

Wherever you’re from, thanks for reading, and happy learning!

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.