My colleague and I were discussing a student's paper.

We agreed that according to our experiences and knowledge of English, the following sentence is grammatically correct: "The difference between the rich and the poor in our city stems from..."

But, another colleague claimed that it would be acceptable to say, "The difference between rich and poor in our city stems from..."

While searching for examples of each, we found ourselves befuddled.

Why are both versions seemingly acceptable?

  • Please see English Language Learners Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Oct 9, 2018 at 9:26
  • Both usages are "correct".
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 9, 2018 at 17:09
  • The nominal adjective is well established. Sometimes they are given the ultimate accolade of switching the definite article with the (even more definite) null article (after Masters). It usually doesn't work ('Poor are with us always' / 'He has the luck of Irish'). Oct 30, 2019 at 15:49

3 Answers 3


The difference between (the) rich and (the) poor in our city stems from ...

Yes, they are both acceptable.

"The rich" is called a 'fused-head' noun phrase, in which the adjective "rich" is a fused modifier-head. In other words the single word "rich" is at the same time a modifier and also the head. The NP is determined by the definite article "the" and is used generically here, where it illustrates a category of human being.

Dropping "the" does not change the basic construction type, and it is still interpreted generically as "rich people".


It's another example of common elision in standard speech and writing:

The rich people and the poor people suffer similarly.

The rich and the poor suffer similarly.

Rich and poor suffer similarly.

All say the same thing, and are easily understood. Leaving out the articles and nouns adds rhythm and vigor to writing. Consider this (extreme) example:

Including every (one of the) (possible) (words that is an) article and (every possible word that is a) noun makes (for writing that is) tedious (when one is) reading (it).

This is one of those things that us technical writers struggle with. Or, should I say, "with which we struggle." Daily.


Rich and poor are adjectives.

‘a rich and famous family’

With the definite article, they become phrasal nouns: "the rich" and "the poor".

‘every day the split between the rich and the poor widens’

That is, those who are rich and those who are poor.

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