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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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.
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.
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