The poor, the meek, the red: Nominal adjectives

Think for a moment about the following adjectives: poor, downtrodden, wealthy, well-to-do, meek.

They’re definitely adjectives, right?

Well, here’s a cool thing about English: Sometimes you can use adjectives as nouns (and, I should add, vice-versa). And when you do, there’s even a name for them. They’re called nominal adjectives.

That is, poor people can be referred to as the poor. And that can work as a noun in a sentence: The poor often live in bad school districts.

Ditto that for the wealthy. The wealthy often live in good school districts.

And everyone knows who shall inherit the earth: the meek.

Even the following use can be considered an example of a nominal adjective in use:

I tried on the blue shirt but bought the red. Here, the red is functioning as a noun — the object of the verb bought — even though it’s just shorthand for the red shirt or the red one.

That’s a little different because the red isn’t as substantive a noun as the poor, which is well-known to be a thing (“things” being members in good standing of the group known as nouns).

And there you have yet another interesting (to some people) trait about the English language …

Tags: ,