I have a translation course this term and in it we review the English translation of various texts of eastern civilizations. We were stuck with translation of the opening verse of the Quran.

"In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful."

the Beneficent is the equivalent of an attribute of God which roughly means that his mercy is due to all creatures. And the Merciful for a word that means his constant mercy is due to the believers. Note that in the source text both words are from the same root. One translation tried to convey this by simply using the merciful for both words and modifying it with adverbs the Entirely, the Especially [Merciful].

the problem. I want to know how does the article the modifies an adjective. I know that in general it denotes a set e.g. the blind, the poor etc., but when one use it in this form: In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful how do you hear it as native speaker of English. In parenthesis I shall say that note that the first letter of the attribute is Capitalized. I'll be grateful if you could explain to me the function of the plus an adjective, not in this one particular use but various usages of this structure and comparing them. And also the capitalization the first letter.

Also if you could introduce me to a book that elaborates on this aspects and other marginal aspects of grammar I really appreciate that. Thanks in advance.


2 Answers 2


Consider this: If someone says "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." the person is not using the normally adjectival "meek" as an adjective but rather as shorthand for "the class of all entities that are meek," -- i.e., a phrase functioning as a noun. In such a use, an accompanying definite article is appropriate.


This article from Wikipedia claims that one similar appellative developed from being a descriptor to an actual part of the name:

This is a list of people known as "The Great". There are many people in history whose names are commonly appended with the phrase "the Great" or the equivalent in their own language. Other languages have their own suffixes such as e Bozorg and e azam in Persian and Urdu respectively and Maha in the devanagari script (Hindi script) as in Mahatma Gandhi.

In Persia, the title "the Great" at first seems to be a colloquial version of the Old Persian title "Great King". This title was first used by the conqueror Cyrus II of Persia.[1] The Persian title was inherited by Alexander III of Macedon (336–323 BC) when he conquered the Persian Empire, and the epithet "Great" eventually became personally associated with him. The first reference (in a comedy by Plautus)[2] assumes that everyone knew who "Alexander the Great" was; however, there is no earlier evidence that Alexander III of Macedon was called "the Great". The early Seleucid kings, who succeeded Alexander in Persia, used "Great King" in local documents, but the title was most notably used for Antiochus the Great (223–187 BC).

Later rulers and commanders used the epithet "the Great" as a personal name, like the Roman general Pompey. Others received the surname retrospectively, such as the Carthaginian Hanno and the Indian emperor Ashoka the Great. Once the surname gained currency, it was also used as an honorific surname for people without political careers, like the philosopher Albert the Great.

As there are no objective criteria for "greatness", the persistence of using the designation greatly varies. For example, Louis XIV of France was often referred to as "the Great" in his lifetime, but is rarely called such nowadays, while Frederick II of Prussia is still called "the Great". German Emperor Wilhelm I was often called "the Great" in the time of his grandson Wilhelm II, but rarely later.

However true this is, there is certainly more than mere tagged-on description in say 'We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty, the one who is and who always was ...' {Rev 11:17, NLT} Indeed, 'The Almighty' is used as (if it were?) a noun: a name / title, in apposition. In more everyday language (apart from the subject matter) one would say 'God is almighty'.

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