Is is proper in English to use this structure:

"The following is an example of a case where this applies."

In a lot of technical writing, especially from authors where ESL applies, I find them using above and below as adjectives, as well as "following" as a noun. I had always thought this was incorrect, but I am wondering if I am mistaken.

  • I'm not entirely sure that following is being used as a noun here. I parse it as an adjective modifying an omitted noun, as in "the following [stuff] is", or, perhaps more accurately, the word example itself, as in "the following [example] is an example of", where the word example is omitted once because the repetition would sound weird. If I try to force myself to think of following as a noun, the sentence starts to fall apart, since to me, following as a noun is too strongly tied to the meaning "a group of someone's followers".
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 18:13
  • 1
    @RegDwight: I believe "the following" used in this way is an adjective substituting for a noun, which is common in English. "We have to take the bitter with the sweet." Bitter or sweet what? "Out with the old, in with the new!" Old and new what? They don't say, and they don't have to. It is understood that we are talking about old and new things, bitter and sweet circumstances, whatever.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 18:40
  • So is this correct grammar? I don't see either of these as an answer, more an analysis.
    – way0utwest
    Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 0:25
  • Yes, it's correct.
    – Dusty
    Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 1:38

1 Answer 1


This usage, as RegDwight and Robusto has noted, is common, and is referred to as a substantive adjective. The missing noun can be obvious from context or intentionally left ambiguous in order to be more general.

Other common phrases that utilize it include ahem the following:

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Only the good die young.

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