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My favorite is apple pie.

Is it correct? Can the adjective be a subject in an English sentence?

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    Did you look in a dictionary? Why do you think "favorite" is an adjective here?
    – Laurel
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 19:29
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    Hello, Olga. 'Favorite' is not always an adjective. Here, it is the noun incarnation, part of the noun phrase (some would say determiner phrase) 'my favorite'. Check in any dictionary. (Another intercategorial polyseme is the verb, as in 'to favorite an image'.) Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 19:30
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    Voting to reopen because, while the OP's example is bad, the answer to the question is, surprisingly, "yes": consider examples like "Ugly is what I'd call it."
    – alphabet
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 22:08
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    @FumbleFingers A better example: "Angry is how I feel about it." That's not a case of mentioning the word (as in "'Angry' has five letters");
    – alphabet
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 0:29
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    The logical analysis is that "favourite" is a fused modifier-head, understood to mean "favourite desert" or some other foodstuff. It's called 'fused' because it combines the functions in the NP of head and modifier.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 8:56

2 Answers 2

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In "My favorite is apple pie," the word favorite is, on what I think is the most likely interpretation, just a noun. But more generally, yes, a sentence can have an adjective as its subject. (Note that in the below I'm following the terminology of Huddleston & Pullum (2002).)

First, an adjective phrase can serve as the subject of the so-called "specifying be," where the subject expresses the value of a variable, as in sentences like "Ugly is what I'd call it" or "Angry is how I felt" (Huddleston & Pullum (2002), p. 268, 1422). In those sentences, ugly and angry are adjective phrases (consisting of single adjectives), each acting as the subject of to be.

The second case occurs when a sentence's subject is a noun phrase, but where that noun phrase is headed, not by a noun, but by an adjective serving as a "fused modifier-head" (ibid., p. 416-418). These occur in sentences like "There are many skyscrapers in the world, but the tallest stands in Dubai," where tallest is an adjective but it acts as the head of the noun phrase the tallest, which in turn is the subject of stands.

One might think that a sentence like "Even better was her third novel" also contains an adjective acting as a subject, but that is not so (ibid., p. 268). You can see this from the fact that the verb agrees with novel; if we make it plural, the verb becomes plural also: "Even better were her later novels." This is also obvious from the fact that the sentence can't undergo subject-auxiliary inversion with that word order intact: * "Was even better her third novel?" is ungrammatical. Instead, such sentences are examples of subject-dependent inversion, similar to sentences like "On the manager's desk sat a large manila envelope" (ibid., p. 1385-1389).

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    How do you know that it's the noun favourite and not a fused modifier-head adjective? My very favourite is apple pie or My most favourite is the green both seem to have modifiers that can't normally modify nouns. There's no way of telling whether it's a noun or an adjective in OP's example. [I agree with BJ about ibid - it's banned in most academic journals!] Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 13:42
  • @Araucaria-Him My reason for considering it a noun is that it can be pluralized; there are plenty of attested examples for "My very favorites are..." and indeed that sounds acceptable to me.
    – alphabet
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 14:15
  • Is there an example on p268 with '[adjective] is [what/how-clause]'? Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 14:20
  • H&P have an subcategory of fused modifier-heads with "special interpretations", such as the French and the rich. (Some dictionaries label rich as in the rich as a noun.) If a magician says "Ladies and Gentlemen, the utterly impossible is child's play for me, as I will now demonstrate," the audience may have to wait to learn what impossible refers to (unless, perhaps, his lovely assistant is lying down and he has a saw in hand.) Perhaps this is as close as we come to a noun function for an adjective.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 15:23
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    I can understand this when the complement is a nominal (though 'Our John is a poet' ↔ 'A poet is our John' seems like a mere poetic reordering to C - copula - S whereas 'Our John is a suitable candidate' and 'A suitable candidate is our John' seem to differ semantically. But to identify 'angry' as the subject in 'Angry is how I'd describe him', being a virtual rewrite of 'I'd describe him as angry', really exercises my support for the 'it's the grammar that dictates this'. Do we call 'He led them a merry dance' ditransitive because it looks like it is? Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 22:49
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Nominal ellipsis.

As in:

McCarthy (1991:43) supposes that ellipsis is the omission of elements normally required by the grammar which is the speaker/writer assumes are obvious from the context and therefore need not be raised. This is not to say that every utterance which is not fully explicit is elliptical; most messages require some inputs from the context to make sense of them. Ellipsis is distinguished by the structure having some "missing" elements, for example, when there is a written sentence: Nellly [sic: typo?] liked the green tiles, I preferred the blue. For this type of the sentence, it is as nominal ellipsis because the word involves omission of noun headword.

See the full explanation for types of ellipsis here: ellipsis

Sample sentence: My favorite is apple pie.

Ellipsis: My favorite [pie] is apple pie.

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