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They both mean I am an American but which is preferable in everyday speech and in writing, and why? Is the former more formal than the latter?

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Today people never say 米国人 in everyday speech and even in written form most people express American as アメリカ人.

The obvious exception is on a newspaper. Writers there still express it as 米国人, for possibly two reasons:

  1. 米国 is shorter than アメリカ.

  2. Kanji is more suited than Katakana to vertical writing, which is still used in newspapers.

I also want to note that this tends to be applied to 英国/イギリス as well. Also, Kanji is often used to express each country (e.g. , , or to express フランス, ドイツ, or イタリア) even on the web news just because those are shorter.

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Honestly, I have almost always heard people from the United States use "アメリカ人". I think "米国" can indeed be thought as more formal, and is used a lot when it comes to guidebooks and such. I see it a lot in writing, and when writing compounds:

  • 米文学{べいぶんがく}: American literature. Any other form, 米国 or アメリカ, can be used there.
  • 北米{ほくべい}: North America
  • 米州{べいしゅう}: The Americas

Keep in mind that they both have exactly the same meaning: the United States of America.

  • 米国{べいこく} comes from 亜米利加{あめりか} which is I think simply a juxtaposition of Chinese characters to get the actual sound.
  • Similarly, for France, フランス is always used in katakana except for French - Japanese dictionaries for which the chinese character 仏{ふつ} is used. This one comes from 仏蘭西{ふらんす}. However, this only used when referring to "abstract" France, and never to refer to the country or to the people. You can also find it for example in the 仏検{ふつけん}, the French proficiency test for Japanese people.
  • For the English language, 英{えい} is used, but this one comes from England, 英国{えいこく}, which itself is from 英吉利{いぎりす}.

So, they are the same but I tend to hear a lot more of "アメリカ" and see a lot of "米国" written. If you have a look on Wikipedia though, you can see most pages that have 米 in their name are redirected to their アメリカ counterparts which would seem to indicate that アメリカ would even be more correct or at least more frequent.

  • 1
    Regarding your last paragraph, my 在留カード issued by the Japanese government says 米国. And the tax treaty I benefit from says アメリカ合衆国 which is the formal name of the United States of America in Japanese. I say this just in regards to the "more correct" aspect. – virmaior Nov 17 '14 at 4:43
  • Thanks for the insight... Being a non-american, I never really encountered the various aspects of the name of the country. – Urukann Nov 17 '14 at 9:02
  • The Americas in English wouldn't refer to just the USA; it'd include all the land in North and South American continents. Does it really just refer to the USA in Japan? – Andy Aug 24 '17 at 1:35
  • I don't think Urukann is saying the Americas refers specifically to the United States. He's just giving examples using 米. – snailboat Aug 24 '17 at 5:10

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