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In the following sentences is "bad" a noun or a nominal adjective: "You have to take the bad with the good" and "Things went from bad to worse"

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  • ... take the bad (things) with the good (things). Things went from (being) bad (things) to (being) worse (things). The noun is 'things' in both sentences. 'Bad' and 'worse' are adjectives.Take that which is bad, is contracted to 'the bad', but conceptually one still needs to supply a noun somewhere for the adjectival concept to have effect.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2020 at 21:14
  • Your first example shows nouns in the form of nominalized adjectives. Your second one shows adjectives. Cf. Things went from [being] [very] happy to [being] [extremely] sad. Sep 6, 2020 at 2:48
  • If it's a noun, then what's a bad? Can you have a terrible bad or the terrible bad? Or would it need an adverb like the terribly bad? If so, it isn't a noun, just a piece of a noun phrase.
    – tchrist
    Sep 6, 2020 at 20:47
  • @tchrist In modern informal speech "bad" has definitely become a noun meaning "error" or "fault", I think particularly in the US. It seems quite common to hear "Oh, that's my bad" these days. There's currently an advert for the Kia Niro hybid car on British television which features Robert de Niro saying "My bad" as an aoplogy for confusing a reference to the car with a reference to himself.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 6, 2020 at 22:45

2 Answers 2

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These are all adjectives, not nouns.

In sentences such as:

  1. The worst is yet to come.

The subject NP has a determiner the and a fused-modifier head, worst, which is a superlative adjective. It is not a noun. It does not “become” a noun. It remains an adjective.

Consider how different it is from this sentence with an actual noun in the same slot:

  1. The surprise is yet to come.

How can you tell that (1) has an adjective but (2) has a noun? You can apply an intensifier like truly to adjectives but not to nouns. This is grammatical:

  1. The truly worst is yet to come.

But this is not:

  1. *The truly surprise is yet to come.

So even though worst is still an adjective, it is the head of the subject NP because it’s a fused-modifier head.

Not all NPs need contain nouns. Rather, they are syntactic constituents that serve in the grammatical role of subject, object, and so forth. That doesn’t mean they have to have a noun in them. Many do not. This is one such.

The bad is the direct object of your verb take. So is the good. There is no noun there, just an NP containing an adjective as a fused-modifier head. You can tell they’re adjectives because you can apply intensifying adverbs like truly to them, which can’t be done to nouns.

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  • They are adjectives, but they function (at least here) as nouns. The poor = poor people; the tortured = tortured people; the elite = elite people. That way, can't 'the good/ the bad' be considered noun, function-wise?
    – Ram Pillai
    Feb 8, 2021 at 7:19
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In the first sentence "bad" is clearly the noun. In the second, as only the adjective can take comparative forms, "bad" must be the adjective, but that deduction is still rather intuitive. Anyway, the phrase "going from bad to worse" is known as a standard expression constructed with the adjective (Cambridge Dictionary).

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  • If "bad" is clearly functioning as a noun in the first sentence but is actually an adjectival form, doesn't that make it a nominal adjective? If not, why not. Sep 5, 2020 at 22:14
  • @tangosquared It is not found in the entries of dictionaries as merely an adjective, but as a noun also; on the other hand "elderly" is found only as an adjective and it can be used as a noun in "the elderly"; it is on this basis that nominal adjectives are dealt with, they are just adjectives.
    – LPH
    Sep 5, 2020 at 22:26
  • PS Interestingly enough, Merriam Webster categorizes the second sentence as an example of a noun. That's somewhat why I am asking if it isn't really an example of a nominal adjective. Sep 5, 2020 at 22:28
  • thanks for your perspective, but I have found that dictionaries can often vary in terms of the classification, particularly for adjectival forms, particularly when they take the role of a noun. But dictionaries generally don't include this classification. Further, ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/adjectiv/nominal.htm suggests that "the good" (and by implication "the bad") is a nominal adjective Sep 5, 2020 at 22:36
  • @tangosquared There is a certain illogicality in treating "bad" as a noun in this phrase: it's a word defined as "bad people, things or events"; from this we get that things went from bad things to worse; it seems it is more intelligible to say "Things went from being bad to being worse.".
    – LPH
    Sep 5, 2020 at 22:40

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