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Can guilty be used as a noun? For example, as in the title of Chase's novel: The guilty are afraid. Is it that people or folks is understood after guilty and in effect an ellipsis? I do not find guilty marked as a noun in Webster or Wikitionary.

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Have you never heard of the hungry, the poor, the rich? The lame and the blind? The fast and the furious? The good, the bad, and the ugly? –  RegDwigнt Nov 8 '12 at 10:11
    
(Also, I think this might be a duplicate, though of course it's hard to search for this kind of thing, so the original might take some time to find.) –  RegDwigнt Nov 8 '12 at 10:14
    
Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/27690/… which deals with the nounifying of adjectives. –  Andrew Leach Nov 8 '12 at 10:28
    
@RegDwighт♦: Indeed. An awful lot of "unlikely" terms can serve as nouns - witness "the haves and the have nots" –  FumbleFingers Nov 8 '12 at 18:25
    
@AndrewLeach Is there a post for the verbifying of nouns? :-) –  mac389 Nov 8 '12 at 18:40

3 Answers 3

English is flexible. Native speakers often change the part of speech to suit their need at the moment. In this case, by using the definite article the, we can "noun [This noun has been turned into a verb -- that is, it functions as a verb] the adjective", thereby turning "the guilty" into a noun.

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It's called conversion, and my favorite exmple is: Verbin weirds language. –  Joachim Sauer Nov 8 '12 at 10:36
    
Maybe it is these days, but 30 years ago when I got my MA in theoretical linguistics it wasn't, as far as I know. Terminology changes, but I prefer Andrew Leach's very specific term "nounifying of adjectives" to the boringly vague "conversion", don't you? –  user21497 Nov 8 '12 at 10:40
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And of course adjective itself is, morphologically and etymologically, a nouned adjective. –  StoneyB Nov 8 '12 at 11:49
    
Yes, the adjective remains an adjective but it functions as a noun because the noun has been elided. These nounified adjectives are normally noncount nouns, but some, like "innocent" have plural forms, as in Mark Twain's novel The Innocents Abroad. "The guilty", however, cannot be "the guilties", nor can the "pure" be "the pures", "the good" "the goods", "the bad" "the bads", but "the ugly" can be "the uglies". Language is fascinating because it generates so many exceptions to the rules we love to impose but can't enforce, bellow as we might about them. –  user21497 Nov 8 '12 at 12:52

Noun
guilty (plural guilties) [wiktionary]
- (law) A plea by a defendant who does not contest a charge.
- (law) A verdict of a judge or jury on a defendant judged to have committed a crime.
- One who is declared guilty of a crime. [emphasis mine; usu. the guilty]

Although the word is essentially an adjective, extensive usage in the elliptical sense must have prompted some newer language resources to recognize guilty as a noun as well.

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This is ellipsis of a noun phrase.

The guilty is the guilty [people], with the noun omitted. They have no difference in meaning. Similarly, we have The Good[people], the Bad [people], and the Ugly [people].

There may be some room to quibble about terminology ("Ahhh... but... it is acting as a noun..."), but in the guilty, 'guilty' is still an adjective in a noun phrase, modifying an absent noun, so it isn't really 'nounifying' or conversion.

You may find this article interesting: The Use of Adjectives as Nouns in English

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