Nominalized adjective

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A nominalized adjective is an adjective that has undergone nominalization, and is thus used as a noun. For example, in the rich and the poor, the adjectives rich and poor function as nouns denoting people who are rich and poor respectively.

In English

The most common appearance of the nominalized adjective in English is when an adjective is used to indicate a collective group. This happens in the case where a phrase such as the poor people becomes the poor. The adjective poor is nominalized, and the noun people disappears. Other adjectives commonly used in this way include rich, wealthy, homeless, disabled, blind, deaf, etc., as well as certain demonyms such as English, Welsh, Irish, French, Dutch.

Another case is when an adjective is used to denote a single object with the property, as in "you take the long route, and I'll take the short". Here the short stands for "the short route". A much more common alternative in the modern language is the structure using the prop-word one: "the short one". However, the use of the adjective alone is fairly common in the case of superlatives such as biggest, ordinal numbers such as first, second, etc., and other related words such as next and last.

Many adjectives, though, have undergone conversion so that they can be used regularly as countable nouns; examples include Catholic, Protestant, red (with various meanings), green, etc.

Historical development

Nominal uses of adjectives have been found to have become less common as the language developed from Old English through Middle English to Modern English. The following table shows the frequency of such uses in different stages of the language.[1]

Period Early OE
(to 950)
Late OE
Early ME
Late ME
1500–1570 1570–1640 1640–1710
Frequency of adjectives
used as nouns
(per 100,000 words)
316.7 331.4 255.2 73.4 70.1 78.9 91.1

The decline in the use of adjectives as nouns may be attributed to the loss of adjectival inflection throughout Middle English. In line with the Minimalist Framework elaborated by Noam Chomsky,[2] it is suggested that inflected adjectives are more likely to be nominalized because they have overtly marked φ-features (such as grammatical number and gender), which makes them suitable for use as the complement of a determiner – determiners have unvalued φ-features and thus need to find a complement with a valued φ-feature to meet semantic comprehension.[1] In the diagrams shown below the determiner is the, and its complement is either the noun phrase poor people, or the nominalized adjective poor.

Transformation of adjective to adjectival noun
syntax tree
Tree diagram of determiner phrase with poor as an attributive adjective 
syntax tree
Transformed determiner phrase with poor as nominalized adjective 

As the frequency of nominalized adjective use decreased, the frequency of structures using the prop-word one increased (phrases such as "the large" were replaced by those of the type "the large one"). In most other languages there is no comparable prop-word, and nominalized adjectives (which in many cases retain inflectional endings) have remained more common.

For more information on the use of adjectives in Old English, see Postpositive adjective (Old English).

In other languages


Adjectives in German contain various information, such as case and gender, and therefore must agree with the noun that they are modifying. The adjective alt (old), for example, will develop a separate lexical entry that carries the morphological and syntactic requirements of the head noun that has been removed.[3] These requirements being the inflectional endings of the language.

der          Alt-e
'the old man'
Sadock 1991
den          Alt-en 
'the old man'
Sadock 1991

der Alte, is the masculine nominative case in German and means the old man[4] derived from the adjective alt, which is surfacing as both the adjective and the noun by adding the appropriate inflections.[3]


Similar to English adjectival nouns are used as a plural definite like in (e.g., the unemployed) and with nationality words (e.g., The Swedish). Contrastively, Swedish does not require "one or ones" when dealing with count nouns (e.g., The old cat is slower than the new (one). Through the use of inflection (incorporating the number and gender of the noun) Swedish is able to evade the need for a visible noun when describing a noun, this phenomenon is also seen when inflecting adjectival nouns.[5]

Standard use of an adjectival noun:

A noun phrase with both the noun and the adjective.

A noun phrase with both the noun and the adjective.

en      blind
SG.NOM  blind
'a blind person'
Holmes (1994)
A noun phrase with only the adjectival noun

A noun phrase with only the adjectival noun.

de     blind-e
PL.NOM blind-PL
'the blind'
Holmes (1994)

An example of an indefinite use

de         död-a  
PL.NOM dead-PL
'the dead'
Holmes (1994)

The use of number and gender inflection:

neuter singular: 
det       nya
N. SG.   New 
'the new (thing)' 
Holmes (1994)
feminine plural: 
den      gamla 
F. SG.   woman  
'the old woman'
Holmes (1994)

Ancient Greek

Ancient Greek uses adjectival nouns substantively to remove the need for plural gender nouns such as, "men", "women" and "things".[6] The use of these nouns are needed in English because they bare information about case, gender and number of the noun and the adjective modifying the noun does not. In Greek the adjective that is modifying that noun does carry that information and is therefore able to remove the noun entirely.

PL. FEM. many 
the many women
Balme & Lawall 2003
PL. Nueter. beautiful
the beautiful things
Balme & Lawall 2003


In Russian, the conversion (or zero derivation) process of an adjective becoming a noun is, in fact, the only type of conversion that is allowed. This process functions as a critical means of addition to the open class category of nouns. Of all the Slavic languages, Russian uses the attributive nouns the most. When the adjective is nominalized, the adjectival inflection alone expresses, case, number, and gender, omitting the noun altogether.[7] For example the Russian word "receiving room" - приемная комната becomes приемнАЯ which means "reception room". The adjective receiving, takes the nominal from reception, thus subsuming the noun, room. Many adjectival nouns in Russian serve to create nouns. These common forms of nouns are known as “deleted nouns”, of which there are three types. The first subtype of this derivation happens in the specific context of within a sentence or phrase, and refers back to the original noun which it is describing. For example, in the phrase, “the chocolate cakes are better than the vanilla”, the adjective “vanilla” has become a noun and is assumed to mean “the vanilla ones”. Such a derivation is contextually sensitive to the lexical meaning of the phrase it is a part of. This content specific use of adjectival nouns also happens in the second subtype, in which nouns can be deleted, or assumed, in colloquial expressions. For example, in Russian, one might say “the on-coming” when referring to an on-coming headwind, in which the verb, “headwind” is assumed. The third subtype is known as the “permanent” adjectival noun and consists of an adjective that stands alone as a noun. These adjectives have become nouns over the course of history and most speakers are aware of their implicit adjectival meaning.


Adjectival nouns occur frequently in the Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. An example would be الإسلامية (al-ʾislamiyyah), where ʾislamiyyah is the adjective 'Islamic', and al-ʾIslamiyyah can be translated as "things Islamic." A further example would be الكبير (al-kabīr), meaning 'the big one', from الكبير (kabīr) 'big'.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Yamamura, Shuto (2010). "The Development of Adjectives used as Nouns in the History of English". English Linguistics. 27 (2): 344–363.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Roger, Martin; Michael, David; Juan, Uriageraka (2000). "Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework," Step by Step: Essays on Minimalist Syntax in Honour of Howard Lasnik. Cambridge: MIT Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sadock, Jerrold M. (1991). Autolexical syntax: A Theory of Parallel Grammatical Representations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 41.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Holmes, Philip; Hinchliffe, Ian (1994). Swedish: A compressive grammar (Second ed.). London and New York: Routledge. pp. 96–102. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Balme, Maurice; Lawall, Gilbert (2003). Athenaze (second ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 96. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Swan, Oscar (April 1980). "The Derivation of the Russian Adjectival Noun". Russian Linguistics. 4 (4): 397–404. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>