Learn English – A query about the use of Generic Reference with nationalities


In English, generic reference takes three possible forms:

A. Cats are cute.

B. A cat is cute.

C. The cat is cute.

But the names of nationalities seem to me to make an exception to this rule. As far as I know, when referring to all the members of a nation, you can only use the C version: The Italians are musical, or The French are posh, or The British are cold.

Why is it that in this case only C is considered grammatically correct? If all the Italians, or all the French, or all the British are musical, posh, or cold, why can't we also say:

A. *Italians are… // *French are… // *British are…


B. *An Italian is… // *A French is… // *A British is…


Best Answer

I don’t agree with the premise. We can, with generic reference, say all of the following:

The Italians are musical, but the British excel in poetry.

Italians may be musical, but you can’t beat Germans for a good brass band.

The Italian is musical, where the Frenchman is artistic.

An Italian is musical, but a Spaniard is more passionate.

Your Italian is musical, but your Englishman prefers football.