In this sentence, is ugliest an adjective or a noun?

He is the ugliest.

  • 1
    "The ugliest" is a noun phrase. The head is the nominal "ugliest" comprised of the adjective "ugliest". "Ugliest" is a fused modifier-head that combines the functions of modifier and head, which is why "the ugliest" is a nominal, not an adjective phrase. It means "He is the ugliest of some set of ugly people".
    – BillJ
    Apr 13, 2017 at 12:06

3 Answers 3



It's obviously an adjective but it's modifying an understood 'person' or 'one', hence the definite article the. You could call it a substantive (an adjective used as a noun) if you liked.


Adjectives and nouns are parts of speech: grammatical categories, defined by a set of distinct generic features.

Decrees of comparison are limited to adjectives and adverbs. In your case, -est is a suffix used to form the superlative form of an adjective or adverb (usually of one that has fewer than three syllables, e.g. "ugly").

When preceded by the definite article "the", the superlative form in question may safely be assumed to be that of an adjective, not an adverb.

Note: OED suggests that ugly may only be an adjective, offering the variant uglily as an adverb.
MW, on the other hand, suggests that ugly may be either an adjective or an adverb.

So far, I've tried to limit my answer to the most evident features of the word in question. Deeper down, there is the syntax: the way the sentence is constructed and the interrelations that glue it all together. An adjective may serve quite a lot of different syntactical functions (not sure if this is an officially accepted term, but I use it anyway) from sentence to sentence, depending on the order in which the various parts of speech are placed, the type of verb etc.

In your case, the adjective is preceded by a linking (or copular) verb, and serves - I'd say - as a subject complement. In fact, one might call it an elliptical subject complement, where certain information has probably been omitted, since previously mentioned context may render them self-evident, perhaps.


He is the ugliest guy on Earth.


He is the ugliest of all my classmates.


Ugliest is a superlative adjective.

  • 3
    There's more to it than just saying it's a superlative adjective.
    – BillJ
    Apr 13, 2017 at 12:21

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