when use capital A in American?

Mexine

Member
International English
I always get confused - do I use capital A when referring to the nationality
and small a when using it as an adjective? i.e. ' An american professor teaches English'??

And 'the teacher is American'?

Help anyone!
<<abbreviation removed>>
mexine
 
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  • Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    ... But also keep in mind that when the nationality adjective becomes generalised, the capital letter is not used. For example, venetian blinds and danish pastries.
    See Venitian/venitian blinds, Danish/danish pastry - capitals or not?

    I'm not sure about that. I've never seen the following written in lower case:

    Swiss steak
    Swiss cheese
    American cheese
    Spanish omelet
    Hungarian goulash
    Italian sausage

    Now, does the fact that these are all food items make a difference, or am I just thinking of food items because I'm starving?
     

    Queva

    Senior Member
    Italian
    It could be that the cases you have mentioned are not general enough. E.g. there are several kinds of sausage in Italy so an Italian sausage does not identify unequivocally one particular sausage, whereas a venetian blind is most definitely that blind. Mine is just a wild guess though.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    In the US, where I learned these terms, there is one particular kind of sausage known as "Italian sausage", one dish called "Swiss steak", one "processed cheese food" called "American cheese", one type of omelet called a "Spanish omelet" and so on.

    I don't really know if this proves (by exception) or disproves Panj's rule; I'm just throwing it out for consideration.
     

    Mexine

    Member
    International English
    Yes Nunty - you must be VERY hungry. I think that the rule I learned many years ago was
    that the adjective American - ie. the american people required a small 'a'; also something like 'He is French' requires capital F but that 'he speaks french' requires a small 'f'. Hmm....but maybe this rule is from many years ago. Bon Appetit!
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Yes Nunty - you must be VERY hungry. I think that the rule I learned many years ago was
    that the adjective American - ie. the american people required a small 'a'; also something like 'He is French' requires capital F but that 'he speaks french' requires a small 'f'. Hmm....but maybe this rule is from many years ago. Bon Appetit!
    I'm sorry, Mexine, but as has been made clear in earlier posts in this thread, this is incorrect. In English, nationalities are always capitalized, both nouns and adjectives. Panjandrum was introducing an exception to this rule for certain generalized usages, and it is the exception that I am inquiring about.

    We always say:
    the American people
    the French language
    he is American
    he is French​
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I'm not sure about that. I've never seen the following written in lower case:

    Swiss steak
    Swiss cheese
    American cheese
    Spanish omelet
    Hungarian goulash
    Italian sausage

    Now, does the fact that these are all food items make a difference, or am I just thinking of food items because I'm starving?

    It's not quite as simple as others have suggested. Usage is divided on some food names (and other items which include a country name). American cheese, Spanish omelet, Hungarian goulash, and Italian sausage are always capitalized. Swiss steak and Swiss cheese are not.

    According to the online Encarta Dictionary, swiss roll (a British English term) can also be spelled Swiss roll, swiss muslin is uncapitalized, and Swiss steak can also be spelled swiss steak.

    This site says,

    PLACE NAMES
    In general, don’t capitalize words that come from place names.
    • french fries, roman numeral, swiss cheese

    French fries are often capitalized, and I would expect the British to always capitalize Swiss cheese because to them it applies only to cheese which is imported from Switzerland, whereas to Americans, Swiss cheese is a category of cheese (what the British call Emmenthal) and may be spelled with or without a capital.

    One justification given for not capitalizing French fries is that it may derive from the cooking term french, a verb which is not capitalized. However, in the end, it really all comes down to usage.
     

    Mexine

    Member
    International English
    hi everyone...yes - I think I have got it...I really was not looking for any dishes - that was Nunty's take on my question because he was hungry.

    But I think I got it: when using to a word like American, French, German etc always use caps - regardless of the grammatical 'function' of the word.

    thank you for all your comments!
     
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