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An adjective appears to be used as a noun when denoting an animate plural and preceded by the definite article:

'The successful are those who strive.'

'The foolish are those who procrastinate.'

Is this always the case?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yep. Because there is always an assumed "people" attached. So long as it's an adjective that can reasonably be used to describe people, you should never run into an issue.

If you ever feel uncomfortable with your construction, just substitute "X people" for your "the X" and see if your sentence still works grammatically.

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Basically agree, though the assumed noun isn't necessarily "people". Like if you were talking about cars and then said, "The fast are expensive and dangerous", I think we'd understand you to mean fast cars, not fast people. –  Jay Jan 31 '12 at 23:02

No, you cannot always assume that. For instance, adjectives ending with -y or -ish usually cannot be pluralized and used as nouns. The adjective 'watery' cannot be turned into 'wateries'. These exceptions are probably because the adjective is already created from a noun and most of these cannot be further altered and turned back into a noun.

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...Just to point it out, the example sentences don't say "the successfuls..." or "the foolishes..." They just say "the successful" and "the foolish." The adjective itself isn't made plural, it's just understood to be plural...So, you could say "the watery..." I'm not sure why anyone would, but they could. –  kitukwfyer Mar 26 '11 at 16:22
Very late follow-up: Whether you would really use it depends on context. "The diver plunged into the watery"? Not likely, you'd just say "... into the water." The only plausible example I can think of would be when the associated noun was used earlier in the same context, like, "The thick soup is hard to swallow, and the watery doesn't fill you at all." –  Jay Jan 31 '12 at 23:00

In 'The successful are those who strive' successful is not being used as a noun. It is a nominal adjective as in 'the meek shall inherit the earth'. Its meaning is 'all those who are successful'. Another way to view this is that the noun has been elided, as in 'I like the hopeless cat, he likes the sucessful'.

That being the case, if 'the [X]' means 'all that are [x]', it has to behave as a plural count noun or a mass noun.

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