It's easier to explain myself with examples like:

The dead's last wish was... The long-lost's children were found (if long-lost refers to, for example, their long-lost ancestors, or basically anybody else depending on the context) The cursed's sword was buried with him, etc.

It seems as if in these sentences (if they were correct) the adjectives turned into "nouns".

I believe these examples would be correct like this for sure:

The last wish of the dead was... The children of the long-lost (parents?) were found, The sword of the cursed (warrior) was buried with him, etc.

My question is whether it was possible to use adjectives and genitives together? Or can it depend on the context? I'm Hungarian, and in Hungarian we can use adjectives like this, since they become instantly nouns, and any adjective can be turned into a noun like this. I'm just not sure whether it was also the case in English or not. I've seen such stuctures in books, movies and video games, but I'm unsure if those were only "literary exceptions" or they were also grammatically correct.

Thanks for your help!

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    These examples are not wrong, but Oy. They are odd enough to stop the reader, who loses your train of thought while trying to figure "The dead" is a noun, and their "last wish" that belongs to them, the dead, is ... Where are we? Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 13:45
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    Adjectival uses like this (the dead, the poor and so on) generally refer to a category of people - although there is a set phrase 'the dear departed' for referring to a recently deceased individual. Normally, we have to say 'the dead man', 'the long-lost couple' and so on. Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 15:00
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    @Yosef Baskin For those who believe that Orwell's Sixth is the Master Law in English (to paraphrase, never say anything outlandish [unless you want to sound quirky / comical]) ... they're wrong. // Conversion is not complete in many of these these nominal adjectives (the aged, the elderly, the poor, the departed ...) and they don't form the Saxon genitive. This is not the case with say The Italian's wallet / the American's wife. Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 15:36
  • @EdwinAshworth Wrong's as wrong does. Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 15:38
  • Does this answer your question? Is "each's" a word? Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


Yes, in general, those are acceptable. Whether they are a good choice from the point of view of clarity and style will depend on the context and the writing skills of the author. They are not particularly rare, but they are also not particularly common, in the sense that it is quite likely that you may go through several newspaper articles without encountering any.


According to CGEL, when the dead, the long lost, etc. are used as a noun phrase (NP), that type of NP is called a fused modifier-head. There are various types of fused modifier-head NPs. Here we are talking about a type that we might call the 'adjectival type', i.e. the type that consists of a definite article and an adjective, plus possibly a modifier in between. The only general constraint on the type of adjective allowed is that it must be possible to use the adjective attributively (CGEL, p. 529).

CGEL doesn't explicitly comment on the genitive form of these adjectival fused modifier-head NPs. But it is not uncommon to see them in the genitive.

Here are some examples of usage. First, from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

Police said two more bodies were found in one of the dead's apartments.
…which limits the poor's access to the market…
…can't be brought up if their only purpose is to provide evidence of the accused's character.
…paid time off for mothers and fathers at any time during the newborn's first six months.
…the mother wrapped her forearm around the eldest's neck.

And from the British National Corpus (BNC):

It was found in a cardboard folder in the back of the accused's car.
It is not because of the poor's isolation from the modern sector that they remain poor.
…with the provincial's enthusiasm for champagne…
…flowing from the insured's death.
He was opposed, to shinty and the young's enjoyment in general.

The phrase the long lost's doesn't occur in these corpora, but it does occur e.g. here:

Occurrences beyond human control such as a chance meeting, a hurricane, the long lost's appropriate return, if they come early in the story and are apparently of no great consequence to the plot, have no effect on plausibility.
From Kenneth Payson Kempton, The Short Story (1954) (link)

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    Thanks for chiming in with CGEL’s fused modifier-head structure here. These somewhat problematic constructions are not always analysed in the same way by all syntacticians, but CGEL’s is less hard to get your head around than others.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 2:16
  • Hmm. Nounification seems more advanced than I'd thought. But some of the examples above sound far more natural than others. Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 13:02
  • @EdwinAshworth OED classes some of these as nouns, though I think the OED is wrong there (as dictionaries often are when it comes to the identification of lexical categories). Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 13:10
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    Papers are written on such things. I'm not sure whether a final decision has been made yet on 'steel' in 'steel bridge'. If it has, someone will probably 'disprove' it. Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 13:55

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