How have "in + [adjective]" type expressions, such as "in general", "in common" and "in private", come into use? I'm puzzled by these expressions, because I understand that a preposition is usually followed by a noun phrase. Is it the case that there used to be a noun after the adjective, for example "in general cases", and later it was dropped?
How have the "in + [adjective]" type expressions, such as "in general", "in common" and "in private", come into use?
2Other examples are in brief, in short, in vain and in full. Most of these are close synonyms of adverbs (generally / privately / vainly), though 'commonly' is rarely used for 'in common'. Similarly, of late means 'lately', at first 'firstly', for sure / certain 'certainly'.– Edwin AshworthMar 13, 2017 at 17:16
1Etymoline says in vain is from "c. 1300, after Latin in vanum" ; and in general is from late 1300s. French en général is attested c. 1270 (CNRTL). So Latin, French, Latin via French, may have been the source of various in + [adj.] English phrases. Others may have been fashioned after in vain, in general.– JacintoMar 14, 2017 at 21:11
The examples that you give can all be extended thus:
- in general terms
- in common with each other
- in private circumstances
The examples offered by Edwin Ashforth in his comment can also be easily handled in this way. Of these, "in vain" probably requires explanation: it appears to have come from French "dans une vaine tentative," literally "in a vain attempt." (The Latin for "empty" or "without substance" is "vanus.")