Often we may see adjectives with nouns that are implied, but not explicitly written. I see this mostly with sports team names and demonyms. For example:

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Is "Irish" a noun, or is it strictly an adjective where "people" is implied? In Latin, which has genders, you could write an adjective without a noun, and "man" or "woman" could be implied based on its gender (and generally, I've seen the masculine plural referring to people without gender importance). We can't do that in English as adjectives are not grammatically grouped into genders.

Here's another example:

"The Chinese are very hard-working."

Is "Chinese" officially a noun or is it merely an adjective?

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  • 1
    It turns out there is a whole page in Wikipedia about this: adjectival noun – CowperKettle Jan 20 '15 at 5:54
  • I think the "adjectival noun" is usually identified by the preceding definite article the: "The Chinese are very hard-working." Maybe "The Notre Dame Fighting Irish" is going too far. – Kris Jan 20 '15 at 6:57
  • Sports teams are usually preceded by the whether they're ordinary nouns or ajectival nouns, e.g. The Patriots or The Celtics. Inserting the school or location doesn't really change it. – Barmar Jan 20 '15 at 21:47

Due to the fact that the English adjective has no endings for gender, case and numerus (singular/plural) it can become unclear when used without noun. So the system is to use adjective + noun or adjectve + one/ones when the noun is dropped.

There are only two possibilities to use the adjective (adj) without noun or one/ones.

1 the beautiful, the sublime, the good, the evil. Here the adj stands for the singular neuter. Added: To avoid misunderstandings I should say: Here the adj stands for something that in languages with genders is called singular neuter.

2 When the adj refers to people as in the rich, the poor. Here "people" is simply dropped.

As to the question about the word class when an adj is used without noun the simplest answer is in "the beautiful/the rich" the adj stands for a noun.

By the way Wikipedia's article The Adjectival Noun is a good example for lengthy academic articles where linguistics needs a whole page for saying the adj can be used without noun when it is singular neuter or when it refers to people. Tree diagrams in such cases are useless.

  • What’s a singular neuter? – tchrist Jan 21 '15 at 0:27
  • @tchrist - There are three genders, male,female and neuter. The beautiful as a singular neuter is everything that is beautiful. – rogermue Jan 21 '15 at 2:26
  • No, there certainly are not three genders. Please stop thinking in German. English doesn’t work that way: it has animates and inanimates, where the animates can be split in those of the male sex and those of the female sex. Furthermore, this distinction is completely lost in the plural. But as a grammatical category, using “neuter” for anything in English is just plain nonsense. A castrated bull, or a castrated man for that matter, remains a he. Only once dead does the body become an it, for the anima has flown. – tchrist Jan 21 '15 at 2:51
  • @tchrist - I didn't mean English in particular. How do you explain the difference between the beautiful (not referring to people) and the rich (referring to people). – rogermue Jan 21 '15 at 3:12
  • I will correct it – rogermue Jan 21 '15 at 3:32

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