In English, adjectives usually cannot function as noun or pronouns, at least not to the degree it is possible in German where you can do it without thinking.

The old car sucked. The new is better.

In English, we'd need a "one" here to make it grammatically correct. Now, in "Game of Thrones" they keep saying the following

By the old gods and the new.

Here are my questions:

  • Is this old fashioned English?
  • Are there more examples like this?
  • Is there maybe a rule when such constructions are possible?

and finally:

  • How is the grammatical analysis of this? What is "new" here? Is it considered a noun? Or is it an adjective with the noun missing?

2 Answers 2


No, it isn’t old-fashioned. Many pairs of adjective can be used in this way. ‘We might say I don’t like the red car. I prefer the blue.’ It’s called ellipsis, and it is used where the rest of the phrase can be recovered from what has already occurred. In your example, new remains an adjective, and the noun it modifies, car, is understood.

  • So my first example would also work? What's the rule? What pairs? "The tall building is pretty and has a nice fassade, I find. The smaller has its charm, too" I think this is not okay. But why not? I can understand the noun just the same. A clearing up would be much appreciated.
    – Emanuel
    Jan 15, 2014 at 10:57
  • No, it wouldn't. Ellipsis is more likely to work within a single sentence, because the missing element is more readily recovered. Even my example would be more likely to occur as I prefer the blue one. By pairs, I mean pairs of contrasting adjectives. Jan 15, 2014 at 11:12
  • I'd say that the less common the adjectives in the pair are, the less likely is ellipsis (though as Barrie says, distance apart in the narrative is very important). 'You wear the white shirts; we'll wear the blue" / ??'You take the smart copy; I'll take the tatty.' */?'You take the ugly witness; I'll take the pulchritudinous.' Antonymous adjectives are more likely to be used, as the ellipsis is then obvious. There is certainly the possibility of an old-fashioned effect too, perhaps influenced by "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'" [Luke 5:39] Jan 15, 2014 at 13:17
  • @EdwinAshworth... forgive me but isn't an ellipsis ALWAYS obvious. I mean, what else could it be other than the tatty "copy" or the pul... "witness". I'd say the reason those don't work that well isn't because people are confused as to what noun to fill in. I think it just feels wrong, full stop. So ultimately I guess it is just a question of language in use that cannot be reasoned about. Would you agree?
    – Emanuel
    Jan 15, 2014 at 14:27
  • I'm not a grammar expert, but I think the rule is that an ellipsis can only be used at the end of a phrase, unless a similar one has already been introduced in a previous phrase. For example, the biblical quote from @EdwinAshworth uses "the new" ... "the old". The first ellipsis "the new" is ok because it comes at the end of the phrase, and the second ellipsis "the old" is ok because it has been set up by "the new". No one would actually just say "The old is better" out of context unless someone used "the new" in a previous line of dialog. Jan 15, 2014 at 18:03

There are implied words:

The old car sucked. The new [one] is better.

By the old gods and the new [ones].

The implied word functions as the noun.

Another example is seen in many proverbs from the Bible:

the rich [person]

the poor [people]

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