In the following sentence

The term Orwellian has evolved into a descriptive of totalitarian and authoritarian practices.

Is the word 'descriptive' a noun or an adjective? Now it is my understanding that practices is a noun and hence descriptive should be an adjective describing that noun but still, there is a bit of confusion especially when this sentence has been written in a different manner in some places like below.

Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, newspeak, doublethink, proles, unperson, and thoughtcrime.

  • Where did you find that sentence? Or did you invent it?
    – BillJ
    Mar 13, 2018 at 13:21
  • The word 'descriptive' can be used either as an adjective or as a noun. Compare it to 'palliative' which can be an adjective (palliative care for the terminally sick) or as a noun (she gave him a palliative to relieve the pain).
    – Nigel J
    Mar 13, 2018 at 13:51
  • @BillJ It is from the book 1984 by George Orwell. Mar 13, 2018 at 14:10

1 Answer 1


Morphologically it is an adjective, as you rightly say, but syntactically it is here used as a noun.

I guess it could be explained through ellipsis, ie there is an omitted term: The term Orwellian has evolved into a descriptive term of totalitarian and authoritarian practices. But then you have two terms, and so for stylistic reasons the second one has been left out.

So, you could still say that descriptive is an adjective, modifying the 'ghost' of the omitted noun term. As English is very flexible with its parts-of-speech, it's kind of both then, and that works fine, even if it seems a bit unusual.

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