How to use adjectives as nouns (A helpful guide)
We often hear adjectives we recognize used as nouns in natural speech, and in the news.
I thought it would be good if students had a simple guide to explain this grammar.
I did some research and used my years of experience teaching English as a second language to make this helpful guide. I also included a video at the end of the post so you can review the grammar and improve your English listening skills.
I’m sure this guide will help you use this English grammar with confidence!
When Adjectives become Nouns
A common way we use adjectives as nouns in natural English conversation is to talk about groups.
A group is a collection of many people or things that can all be described with the same adjective. For example:
Mother Theresa did a lot to help the poor in Kolkata, India.
The adjective poor means – having very little money; not having enough money for basic needs
The poor means the group or collection of poor people that live in Kolkata, India.
Adjectives used to describe a group of people or things will follow the article the.
- the rich, the poor
- the strong, the weak
- the old, the young
- the brave
- the willing
- the gifted
Rugby is fun but it’s a game for the young. I played in high school but I’m too old now.
The young is talking about young people as a group.
The new rollercoaster at Power Amusement Park has 3 loops! Only the brave can ride it!
The brave means the collection of people who are brave!
The adjective brave means – (of a person) willing to do things that are difficult, dangerous or painful; not afraid
I believe the strong should protect the weak.
The group of people we think of as strong should help the group of people we think of as weak.
I joined a tour group that will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa this summer. The tour website said this is a dream trip for the adventurous.[Find the meaning of adventurous and learn about the suffix ~ous HERE]
Oliver’s son is very smart. He goes to a private school for the gifted.
The school is special. It only accepts children who are very smart.
The adjective gifted means – having a lot of natural ability or intelligence
The new shopping mall has lots of parking for the disabled.
People who are unable to use a part of their body completely or easily because of a physical condition, an illness, an injury, etc. can park easily at the shopping mall.
As the population gets older we need more people to work in centers that care for the elderly.
The elderly means the collection of older people in our society.
Expression – faint of heart
If someone is faint of heart they are lacking the courage to face something difficult or dangerous – usually used in the phrase not for the faint of heart
This expression can also be called an adjective expression. The idiom is used to describe a noun, a person. (This is the same job as an adjective.)
The phrase listed above is common -- not for the faint of heart – We can see that “the” is making our adjective expression into a noun that means: the group of people who are not brave.
A: Did you watch the new horror movie last night? I heard it’s scary.
B: It’s very scary! I recommend that you don’t watch it by yourself. That movie is not for the faint of heart!
Watch the video to review below the grammar and improve your English listening skills.
Adjectives become Nouns
Adjectives by themselves – no THE
Here is an example of an adjective that becomes a noun without following the.
How does your city government help it’s homeless?
Homeless is a noun in this sentence talking about the collection of people who live on the street in my city.
We learned that these adjectives as nouns talk about groups of people or things. Group is a singular countable noun. Singular countable nouns can’t be used by themselves.
I bought shirt yesterday. INCORRECT
Shirt is also a singular countable noun so it needs to follow an article or a possessive form. [My, yours, his, hers, theirs, Jenny’s]
I bought a shirt yesterday. GOOD
I bought the shirt I told you about. GOOD
My shirt cost $29. GOOD
When our noun means “A GROUP” it follows the same rule as all singular countable nouns.
The new noun will usually follow the article THE, but it will sometimes follow a possessive form. (Like in our example sentence.)
How does your city government help its homeless?
In this sentence, the group of homeless belongs to, or is connected with a city. This is a common use, especially in news headlines.
The country just announced its spending $800,000.00 to support its unemployed.
Singular Adjectives as Nouns – Not groups of people or things
Sometimes we will use an adjective as a singular noun that is not part of a bigger group. There are not many examples of this grammar that we use in conversation but I sometimes hear “the accused” used in TV shows. Especially shows with police and lawyers. The accused means a person who is on trial for committing a crime. This one person, not a group of people.
After a long trial, the accused was found innocent.
This pattern might be used if they don’t want to reveal the person’s real name.
I might also hear the deceased on the same TV shows. The adjective deceased means dead. We might hear it used like this:
Police found the deceased at 11:30 PM on Friday evening.
In this case, the people describing the situation do not know who the dead person is yet.
Adjectives as Nouns – NEWS
There is a lot of news now about Covid-19. Many of these headlines use the grammar from today’s post.
COVID-19 will hit the poor hardest. Here’s what we can do about it [LINK]
Oil’s “Once-In-a-Lifetime Opportunity” for the Wealthy [LINK]
Coronavirus: An inconvenience for the lucky [LINK]
Supporting the lonely, isolated and vulnerable during the Covid-19 crisis [LINK]
Test the healthy not just the sick, Israeli scientists urge [LINK]
Here is a link that is NOT about the coronavirus!
Best Coffee Beans in Adelaide
– For the adventurous, there’s an ever-changing roster of single-origin varieties, roasted for espresso or filter. [LINK]
Adjectives as Nouns – MOVIES & TV
Dead is an adjective that is often used as a noun to mean zombies. You can find this grammar in many popular zombie films and TV shows.
Movies like George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” and “Land of the Dead.“ These are all movies about zombies coming back from the grave.
“The Walking Dead” is another very popular TV show about zombies. Dead is a noun in this TV show title, walking is an adjective. A group of people are dead and walking! Oh No!
Understanding Adjectives as Nouns grammar can help your English become more natural.
Remember if an adjective follows the article THE and doesn’t come before a noun, the adjective becomes a noun meaning the group of people or things that have that attribute. The things in this group all can be described using this adjective. I hope this guide and explanation have been helpful for you!
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