Some examples include:

We fear the damned.
He honored our fallen.
This is a given.
You are the chosen.
The lost were among us.
They obey the venerated.
My beloved kissed me. (TIL “beloved” is a verb thanks to RegDwight АΑA)

Is there a word to describe the past participle used as a noun? I’m hesitant to refer to it as a gerund, since it doesn’t end in -ing. Another possibility is adjectival noun, if you originally treat the word as a participle (e.g. “the damned man”) that has given up its modified noun.

Also, why does English tend to preface such nouns with the?

  • 3
    Why no love for beloved? It is a past participle, of the venerable verb to belove.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 8, 2012 at 15:24
  • 1
    Why no help for the aged? I feel this is a pronounced lack. Nov 2, 2013 at 10:04

5 Answers 5


I believe this is called a substantive participle, most probably resulting from an omission of the qualified, thus the usual addition of the.

For instance you could add “one(s)” to every one of your sentences:

We fear the damned ones.
He honored our fallen ones.
This is a given one. (this one doesn't sound that good)
You are the chosen one.
The lost ones were among us.
They obey the venerated one.
My beloved one kissed me.

  • 1
    What's up with the strikethrough? If it's invalid, why not just take that part out?
    – Lynn
    Aug 8, 2012 at 18:00
  • @Lynn some other answer would not make sense any longer if I removed it completely
    – Julien Ch.
    Aug 8, 2012 at 19:25

Anything can be anything in English; see here.

In computational linguistics, they use more finely grained part-of-speech tags than the seven parts of speech schoolchildren are often taught. For example, the NUPOS tagset uses the tag n-vvn to indicate “past participle as noun”. It gives an example of “the departed”. So all your examples would be of the n-vvn part-speech tag under their analysis.

The way to read these compound tags of two parts is that the first part before the dash is what it is used “as”, and the second is what it “is”, morphologically speaking. n is noun, vvn is past participle, so n-vvn is a morphological past participle taking on the rôle of a noun in this particular instance.

Note that the incidence of this part of speech per million words of their training corpus is only 50 per million, which is somewhat low compared with many other tags. Some of that is because of how they subdivide things out. For example, “the late lamented’s house” would be identified not as an n-vvn, but rather as an ng1-vvn: a past participle being used as a singular possessive noun (subdividing ng1 into n for noun, 1 vs 2 for singular vs plural, and g meaning genitive case; similar elaboration can be made for vvn).

Even if you aren’t doing computational linguistics, it can be illuminating to read through the NUPOS tagset, to see how things get classified under it. Search down for “NUPOS for English”, and check out the table below that. I think you will find many intriguing things there, some related to your question.

  • You were 46 seconds faster than me in posting your answer, which is by the way much more knowledgeable. I could have spared myself the trouble. ;)
    – Paola
    Aug 8, 2012 at 16:22
  • Apparently, bent, bound, drunk and rent but not ground(s) and homespun are nouns corresponding to related irregular verbal forms (categorial polysemes). Nov 2, 2013 at 10:27

I agree with Julien Ch. about the possibility to add "one" to all your sentences (thus my upvote); however, I don't fully understand what he means by "substantive participle", which by the way cannot be found as an expression in either OALD or Wikipedia.

To me, damned, beloved and all the others are adjectives which derive from verbs, hence the -ed suffix, characteristic of the past participle. When you want to use an adjective as a noun, you are required to put either a definite article or a possessive adjective (or a determiner) before it. This is not only true for adjectives ending in -ed but for all adjectives when you use them in this way.

Examples of what I'm saying are sentences such as: The poor in this country are steadily growing in number; The pure at heart are easily conned; You should always follow the advice of the elderly, and so on and so forth.

  • I found a concise entry for substantive participle and it's apparently tossed around when discussing translations of Hebrew biblical texts.
    – Zairja
    Aug 8, 2012 at 16:31
  • @Zairja. Thank you for the link; however, it seems to refer to the *-ing" verb form instead of the past participle as in our case, so I am not sure it is relevant to your post.
    – Paola
    Aug 8, 2012 at 17:19
  • 1
    Then the term must be improper, i'll remove it
    – Julien Ch.
    Aug 8, 2012 at 17:23
  • @JulienCh. I would have left it, since the -ing was purely for example. It did not mention that the participle had to be a specific tense, but I can see how it'd be unclear / ambiguous.
    – Zairja
    Aug 8, 2012 at 18:01

The ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ includes past participles used this way among adjectives used as noun phrase heads. It comments:

. . . the adjective-headed noun phrase usually refers to a group of people with the characteristic described by the adjective . . . The definite article is typically used with adjectives as noun phrase heads.

Some examples of other adjectives that can be used in this way are the rich, the poor, the young, the elderly, the transient and most adjectives describing nationalities.


In Marcella Frank (1972), Modern English Grammar, Gerund phrases -ing verb forms function as noun and place noun functions in sentence structure(s). She ignored 'past participle' as the gerund without reason. However, in the theory of gerund, gerund should be in participial forms (V-ing, Being V-ed, Having V-ed, and V-ed) but, V-ed or past participle is rejected to be gerund. Is that included gerund? However, language is an arbritrary symbols. Grammarians may not include 'past participle' as gerund since it is rarely used. But, theoretically, that is a derivation of verb forms to be noun not adjective. Some examples include 'unintended' in Muse's single, the 'accused' in Law term, undecided, anointed, concerned, condemmed, conducted, distressed, educated, sacred, illuminated, inverted, throughbred, knitted, nonaligned, nonsched, colored, married, half-bred, beloved, classified, and many other are found in famous writings and functioned as noun explicitly in sentence structure.

  • This is an interesting answer, but hard to parse. You seem to conclude that it should be considered a gerund, correct?
    – Zairja
    Nov 4, 2013 at 15:45
  • @Zairja - I suppose so, since the books I read do not explain it to be. There must be a discussion about this case regarding it is not implied meaning but explicit meaning in, let's say, noun in form of past participle. However, I need a lot of comments to share this case. :) a myriad of thanks Nov 6, 2013 at 1:00
  • I'd say it's a member of a class to which gerunds belong but itself not a gerund.
    – Kris
    Aug 12, 2014 at 12:12

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