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I don't understand the difference in nuance. Is it like saying "person from another country" vs "foreigner"? Is the first one less formal?

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  • Duplicate? japanese.stackexchange.com/a/706/45489
    – sundowner
    Jul 11 at 22:02
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    I don't think this is a duplicate, the source(a video game) specifically said がいこくのひと not がいこくじん or がいじん so the one I'm curious about doesn't seem to be covered in that post.
    – usagimaru
    Jul 11 at 23:01

1 Answer 1

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Yes, at the grammar level, 外国の人【ひと】 is made of three words ("person of (a) foreign-country"), whereas 外国人【がいこくじん】 is a fixed compound meaning "foreigner".

The difference is not large, but only 外国人 is suitable as a legal or academic term. On the other hand, 外国の人 may sound a bit friendlier in informal conversations, so people sometimes intentionally choose this despite its length. They also say 外国の方 in respectful speech.

You're not asking about this, but there is also 外人, which was a safe and neutral word in the past but is now sometimes considered sensitive. See: Why is gaikokujin more politically correct than gaijin? Perhaps, one of the reasons why Japanese people today often use the longest expression (外国の人) in conversations is that 外人 is no longer available as the first choice.

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