What is the singular of Portuguese?

What in English is the singular noun for people from Portugal? Countryfolks’ plurals are easy. The French, Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Americans, Canadians etc. (I won’t go on.)

But when you move to the singular, things become a bit more awkward. For some we’re fine – an American, a Canadian and a German can quite easily walk into a bar as a premise for a joke. And if you aren’t bothered about gender equality, you can probably introduce a Frenchman for good measure. (“Frenchy” is frowned upon.)

But what if you want to bring along a western Iberian, I think you’ll struggle. The best I can do is “Portuguese person”. But the BBC recently opted simply for “Portuguese” in reference to Mr. Mourinho:

“That’s what I read –  it was a disaster,” said the Portuguese.

I have to say, I don’t like it. It just doesn’t sit comfortably.

The problem seems unique to those countryfolk whose names end with an “ese”: Lebanese, Vietnamese, Balinese, Chinese. Although perhaps Thai suffers from the same problem.

What say you? Portugalian? Lebanonian? Chinan?

Posted by Dan, 22 September, 2013 under Grammar


  • I just heard the presenter on The World Tonight say that “a case was brought by a Spaniard”. This comes across as racist, in the same way as ‘a Jew’ or a ‘a Black’ might. It makes race the defining characteristic, rather than humanity, as in ‘a Spanish person’. To make it worse, the fact that the person was Spanish was not relevant to the story.

    On the tube the announcement talks about “Royal National Institute of Blind People”. I heard someone complain about this. He wanted to know what was wrong with the old “Royal National Institute for the Blind”. The answer is that these are people. Blindness is just one of their characteristics.

    ‘Portuguese person’ is good. My advice would be to stick with that.

    Posted by Jeremy Kahn, 13 May, 2014, 10:57pm

  • Portugue pronounced port-chu-geee

    Posted by Me. Right, 11 June, 2016, 4:06pm

  • A portage (long e) from the Spanish portuge’s and the “s” is either lightly pronounced or not pronounce.

    From my early life in the central valley of California.

    Posted by Diego, 1 August, 2018, 6:37pm

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