Consider these sentences:

  1. If you haven't got a fresh chicken, I'll take a frozen.
  2. If you haven't got a fresh chicken, I'll take the frozen.
  3. If you haven't got fresh cream, I'll take canned.
  4. If you haven't got (any) fresh cream, I'll take some canned.
  5. If you haven't got fresh cream, I'll take the canned.

As you see, frozen and canned are adjectives that are used attributively but their accompanying nouns are left out. Is it grammatical to do so? Under what conditions? Does the phrase remain a noun phrase?

Of course, the problem can be detoured by adding back the omitted nouns (frozen chicken/one, canned cream), but the question is, cannot the adjectives do alone?

You can also share your native impression and tell us (preferably in the comment section) which of the sentences above you find acceptable and which unnatural.

  • Yes, it's grammatical, as in your examples, or like this: I need some cream. If you don't have fresh, canned is fine.
    – TimR
    Nov 16, 2016 at 13:01
  • 2
    @TRomano I don't think it's true as a general rule; cf, "I don't like this doll. Give me a beautiful."
    – Færd
    Nov 16, 2016 at 16:00
  • 2
    The adjectives involved should be ones which semantically admit an opposition, as in "I don't like sweet wine, I like dry. He doesn't want canned peas, he wants fresh. She likes red wine, he likes white. He likes flashy cars, she prefers reliable".
    – TimR
    Nov 16, 2016 at 16:18
  • 4
    "I don't want an ugly doll, I want a beautiful" would be the same form as what you are arguing for, yet it categorically doesn't work.
    – Tom B
    Nov 16, 2016 at 20:35
  • 2
    Have you read what CGEL has to say about fused modifier-heads?
    – user28567
    Nov 22, 2016 at 22:00

5 Answers 5



If you haven't got (any) fresh chicken, I'll take frozen.

If you haven't got fresh cream, I'll take canned.

If you haven't got any fresh cream, I'll take (some) canned.

Not natural:

If you haven't got a fresh chicken, I'll take a frozen

(one is needed)

By adding the singular article a, you also need to point towards a singular chicken using one. (Or indeed you could just say "chicken" again.) When you omit the article, there is no requirement to do this.

  • Tom, I've downvoted the answer because your statement that "one is needed" does not jibe with my experience. I hear phrases analogous to "I'll take a frozen" quite often. Since it's November: "If you haven't got a fresh turkey, I guess I'll have to take a frozen".
    – TimR
    Nov 16, 2016 at 14:19
  • 3
    @TRomano I'm not rejecting your opinion, but Tom is not alone in thinking one is needed after a frozen. So maybe it's a regional thing?
    – Færd
    Nov 16, 2016 at 15:15
  • I disagree with the example using "some". It should be handled the same as when an article is used. But I am not sure what "some (not needed)" means. If you are saying a word is optional, put that word in parenthesis. For example, my guess is "If you haven't got any fresh cream, I'll take (some) canned." in the case where using some is optional.
    – user3169
    Nov 17, 2016 at 0:09
  • 6
    @TomB +1 In British English that's certainly the case. I can't downvote the comment saying otherwise, but I would if I could. Nov 18, 2016 at 16:26
  • 1
    I think the distinction is a matter of singular, plural and mass nouns. With singular nouns like a doll and plural nouns like cars the word one or ones may be optional but it is always implied. In the case of mass nouns, however, there is nothing to count so one or ones cannot be used. Cream is a mass noun, chcken can be either. If you haven't any fresh chicken I'll take a frozen one" is fine with or without either or both of the words in italics. "Some" is an optional word with mass nouns and plural ones We can say "This fabric is ugly, show me some beautiful ones".
    – BoldBen
    Nov 26, 2016 at 11:28

TL;DR: See the bulleted list in the second quotation box, and maybe peek into the final list too.

Sentences #1-5 in the original post are examples of the fused-head construction; more specifically, the fused modifier-head construction.

Fused-head noun phrases are those where the head is combined with a dependent function that in ordinary noun phrases is adjacent to the head, usually determiner or internal modifier:

- i Where are the sausages? Did you buy [some] yesterday? [determiner-head]
-ii The first candidate performed well, but [the second] did not. [modifier-head]

(from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) by Huddleston and Pullum, p 410)

Some in i above is a determiner and the head of its noun phrase at the same time; second in ii is simultaneously a modifier and the head.

With a few exceptions, almost all determiners can occur in this construction. But the case of modifier-heads is a little more complicated:

7.3 Fused modifier-heads

Fusion of modifier and head of an NP is seen in the following examples, where an adjective serves as modifier and as head at the same time:

- i Should I wear the red shirt or [the blue]?
- ii [The youngest of their children] was still at school.
-iii [The French] don 't take these things too seriously.

In [i] we understand the blue to mean "the blue shirt".
In [ii] the reference is to the youngest member of the set consisting of their children.
In [iii] the French has a special interpretation: it means French people in general.

Modifiers cannot fuse with the head as readily as determiners can. Examples like these are not grammatical:
- i *Kim had hoped for a favourable review, but Pat wrote [a critical].
- ii *That mattress is very soft: I 'd prefer [a hard].
-iii *Look through this box of screws and pick out [some small].

Instead of the fused-head construction in cases like these we use an NP with one as head: a critical one, a hard one, some small ones.

The modifiers which most readily fuse with the head include these:

  • determinatives† used in modifier function following a determiner (e.g. these two)
  • superlatives and comparatives (the best, the most important of them, the taller of them)
  • ordinal numeral words (the second, the eighth)
  • certain semantic categories of adjective, e.g. colour adjectives as in the blue and nationality adjectives that aren't also count nouns, as in the French, the English, the Dutch (we don't get *The Belgian are very courteous because we use the count noun instead: The Belgians are very courteous).

A category of words (or lexemes) which can function as determiner in an NP, marking it as definite or indefinite: the, a, this, that, some, any, few, etc. Most can occur with other functions too: e.g., that is modifier of an adjective in It wasn't that great.

(from A Student's Introduction to English Grammar by Huddleston and Pullum, pp 99-100 and p 298)

CGEL expands a great deal on the subject. Here's a short summary:

  • The determinatives every and various cannot function as modifier-heads.
  • Indefinite comparatives cannot be modifier-heads too; so this is ungrammatical:
    *Hugo has a big house, but Karl has [a bigger].
  • Modifiers denoting color, provenance, and composition can act as modifier-heads:
    I prefer cotton shirts to [nylon].
    • However, there is significant loss of acceptability when the determiner is indefinite; eg, sentences #1 and #4 in the original post:
      ?If you haven't got a fresh chicken, I'll take a frozen
      ?If you haven't got (any) fresh cream, I'll take some canned.
  • Adjectives denoting basic physical properties such as age and size can also act as modifier-heads:
    Lucie likes young/big dogs, but I prefer [old/small].
    • But the acceptability is lost with indefinitely determined NPs:
      *Lucie bought a young dog, but I bought [an old].
      And it's lost or degraded with adjectives denoting more complex physical properties or with evaluative adjectives, for example those denoting character:
      ?Lucie likes smooth-coated dogs, but I prefer [shaggy].
      *Lucie likes friendly dogs, but I prefer [aggressive].
  • A rather restricted range of adjectives beyond those covered above occur in fused-head constructions with special interpretations; eg:
    [The French] do these differently from [the Dutch].
    [The rich] cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.
    This is verging on [the immoral].
    They like to swim in [the nude].

For a fuller discussion and detailed explanation of the exceptions, refer to The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp 415-418, or if you were in the mood, pp 410-425.

And thanks to @snailplane for a helpful hint.

  • 1
    Helpful and interesting post! Nov 29, 2016 at 16:57

You ask "Does the phrase remain a noun phrase?" Yes, because the reduced phrase can be the antecedent for the "it" or "them", when you continue any of your examples with "Because I like it/them almost as well." I couldn't figure out the main part of your question, however.


I'm just wondering whether the concept of 'fungibility' is useful here: "If there's no brown sugar, I'll take white." (Just to get away from the chicken and cream).

As long as the first adjective refers to a fungible, the second one doesn't need a 'prop' word. Once you take away the fungibility in the first clause - by whatever means - you force the use of a similar specifier in the second clause.

In the original question, only no. 3 seems natural to me.

  • I've always thought of cream as being fungible Nov 27, 2016 at 16:52
  • sorry, I thought the idea here was to contribute, not snipe at other contributors Nov 27, 2016 at 18:19

All of your sentences are in need of a a pro-form since you do not want to repeat the actual noun. A pro-form is a stand in for another phrase where the meaning is recoverable from context. The way your sentences are structured this is an assertive existential quantifier, meaning you are not referring to a specific chicken or cream, but you just assume its existence.

If you have chicken/cream, I'll take one/some.

In your case you are adding an adjective to give that pro-form another property (frozen or canned) juxtaposing the property from the first part of the sentence.

(1) If you haven't got a fresh chicken, I'll take a frozen one. (singular)

(1b) If you haven't got a fresh chicken, I'll take the frozen one. (singular, specific)

(2) If you haven't got (any) fresh cream, I'll take (some) canned. (uncountable)

(2b) If you haven't got (any) fresh cream, I'll take (the) canned. (uncountable, specific)

(3) If you haven't got (any) fresh chicken, I'll take (some) frozen ones. (plural)

(3b) If you haven't got (any) fresh chicken, I'll take (these) frozen ones. (plural, specific)

The reason people are calling for the word one is an English pecularity. The word one is a prop-word which excels at standing in on pro-forms. I cannot speak to how idiomatic it is where to skip that prop-word. However most languages don't have one and would just nominalize the adjective. English used to do the same. Anyhow it is clear that there is no such word for uncountable nouns which is why no one called for changes in your cream-example.

Anyhow the ellipsis of this prop-word might be highly regional in English and this construction sounds very idiomatic ESL speakers whose native language is bigger on nominalizing adjectives than English, which is essentially every language.

A prerequisite to use an adjective in the second part of the sentence in any such way you need one in the first part to contrast it to.

If you haven't got chicken, I'll take a frozen (one). (Makes no sense.)

Another prerequisite is that the adjective is describing a property of the object in question. I can't quite put my finger on it but it seems to not work properly with limiter adjectives like real, perfect and adjectives that are subjective like interesting, beautiful, pretty. On the contrast it works very good with very definite adjectives like your frozen.

  • While the extra information provided in the first half is much appreciated, you start answering the question directly in the second (namely, the last three paragraphs). This would discourage the casual reader from seeing your answer through. A TL;DR or slight reorganization could help, IMO.
    – Færd
    Nov 27, 2016 at 15:53

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