Nominal Adjectives

Certain adjectives are used to denote a class by describing one of the attributes of the class. For example, the poor denotes a class of people who share a similar financial status. Other nominal adjectives are:

the old
the sick
the wealthy
the blind
the innocent

A major subclass of nominal adjectives refers to nationalities:

the French
the British
the Japanese

However, not all nationalities have corresponding nominal adjectives. Many of them are denoted by plural, proper nouns:

the Germans
the Russians
the Americans
the Poles

Nominal adjectives do not refer exclusively to classes of people. Indeed some of them do not denote classes at all:

the opposite
the contrary
the good

Comparative and superlative forms can also be nominal adjectives:

the best is yet to come
the elder of the two
the greatest of these
the most important among them

We refer to all of these types as nominal adjectives because they share some of the characteristics of nouns (hence nominal) and some of the characteristics of adjectives. They have the following nominal characteristics:

  • they are preceded by a determiner (usually the definite article the)
  • they can be modified by adjectives (the gallant French, the unfortunate poor)

They have the following adjectival features:

  • they are gradable (the very old, the extremely wealthy)
  • many can take comparative and superlative forms (the poorer, the poorest)
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