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There's a very old TV show called 'The rich also cry'.

I understand that the subject ('the rich') here acts as a noun, although it was originally an adjective (rich).

I wonder how many residual properties of an adjective are retained once it has been converted into a noun. For example, there's no sign of the plural (the ending -s), which is typical of adjectives, but less so of nouns.

Is it possible to use the comparative degree to create a 'comparative noun'?

  • rich -> richer
  • the rich (people) -> the richer people -> just 'the richer' (without 'people' following it)

Thanks for reading.

  • 2
    I see absolutely no reason why not. There are plenty of comparatives, and superlatives, which are used as nouns. "The slower get there in the end.", "He was dressed in his finest". "The less hesitant find success more elusive". Arguably, I suppose the invisible presence of a noun can often be deduced - "finest clothes", "less hesitant people" etc. – WS2 Oct 23 '17 at 7:13
  • Grammatically, no problem. When it gets to idiomaticity and quality of style (at least equally important), there's a judgement call to make. @Mari-Lou adds some wise pointers here; fairly close context is nearly always required. 'The best is yet to come' is a set phrase that uses a not-too-specific superlative nominal adjective. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 23 '17 at 8:46
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    "Rich" is not a noun here. This is called a fused modifier-head construction where "rich" is an adjective functioning simultaneously as modifier and head in the NP "the rich", where we understand "rich" to mean "rich people". Note that "rich" retains its status as an adjective within the NP. Exactly the same applies to "the richer". – BillJ Oct 23 '17 at 10:33
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When an adjective is used to represent a group of people, such as the sick, the poor, the blind, the young, the unemployed, the elite, or the damned, the noun phrase conveys an almost absolute quality and a general meaning; it is used to refer to all the sick people, all the poor, all the young, etc.

The comparative noun form, the richer, works if the subject being compared, in this case the rich, has been mentioned previously or is clearly understood from context.

The rich cry but the richer cry even more.

There is a very well-known aphorism which says

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

but here richer is an adjective; therefore the definite article is not required.

Furthermore, without context, I'm not sure how the following sentence would fare

The younger face even greater challenges in the world of work.

It's understandable, but the comparative noun phrase version doesn't sound idiomatic, it's not something that we hear, the reader would have to fill in the missing context. A better alternative would be

The younger the unemployed, the greater the challenges they face

Here the comparative form “the younger” is used to head the noun phrase “the unemployed”, it modifies the generic meaning of all the unemployed people

  • 2
    One is tempted to say, “The rich get richer, but the richer get even richerer”. (Also, in the last example, the isn’t really a definite article in the usual sense. It’s more like a conjunction-like particle required to form a specific construction to indicate how one comparative affects or relates to another.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 23 '17 at 9:18
  • I believe your first example shows exactly how one can write "the richer" in the sense the OP was asking about. I would just add that the reference to "the rich" doesn't need to be in the same sentence. If one were sure that one's audience would be reminded of the TV program "The Rich Also Cry" when one wrote, "the richer cry even more," I think that would be sufficient to set up the comparison. (I had never heard of that program before now, though, so I would have missed the intent of the comparison.) – David K Oct 23 '17 at 14:14
  • Very good answer, but I would urge you to give some consideration to idioms such as "...dressed in their finest". And what about such expressions as "The quicker you run the better"? Are they nouns? Perhaps not. – WS2 Oct 23 '17 at 21:19
  • @WS2 but those are examples of the superlative and the comparative forms; the first means "dressed in the finest clothes they possessed" and the second construction is similar to "the more the merrier", "the bigger the better" which are examples of correlative comparative constructions (I had to look up that grammatical term!) whereas the infirm, or the meek are nouns that represent a group of people. The OP is asking about the comparative form of the noun phrase. – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 '17 at 21:29
  • I'll concede the point to you on "correlative comparative constructions" (what a splendid tongue-twister). But I'm not convinced that "their finest", is any less a noun than "the infirm". The criterion seems to be the degree of idiomacy. And whilst people say "the infirm" without consciously thinking the word "people", so they say "finest" without thinking "clothes". Is that not right? – WS2 Oct 23 '17 at 22:22
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The sentence is perfectly grammatical, but absent the context of "the rich also cry" it sounds a bit strange. A couple of thoughts:

  • The word "richer" used in the sense of more wealth (rather than e.g. more flavor) is relatively uncommon, with a significant exception being "the rich get richer." I would not say "Mickey is richer than Gus" -- it sounds a bit childish and crass somehow.

  • "The rich" is already being used as a comparative -- it means people who are richer (though again, I would prefer to say something like "wealthier") than some others. "The richer" doesn't clearly denote a group of people, so as a collective noun it doesn't really stand on its own.

But this is not the only part of the sentence that is a reference to "the rich also cry"; without that context, what "even more" refers to is not clear. So in summary: this makes sense closely following "the rich also cry" and to people who can be counted on to be very familiar with that phrase (for what it's worth, I hadn't heard it before), but otherwise will be a bit strange/confusing.

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