Collective Adjectives

What is a collective adjective?

Collective adjectives are a subgroup of nominal adjectives, or adjectives that act as nouns. They are used to refer to a group of people based on a characteristic that they share. For example:
  • The rich should help the poor.”
This sentence is another way of saying, “Rich people should help poor people.”
Some common collective adjectives are:
  • the blind
  • the elderly
  • the hardworking
  • the homeless
  • the innocent
  • the intelligent
  • the poor
  • the rich
  • the sick
  • the strong
  • the weak
  • the young
In addition, a large amount of collective adjectives refer to the nationality of a group of people. For example, instead of saying “French people cook well,” we can say, “The French cook well.” Other nationalities for which we have collective adjectives are:
  • the Chinese
  • the English
  • the Irish
  • the Japanese
  • the Scottish
  • the Spanish
  • the Vietnamese
Notice that when we use a collective adjective for nationality, it’s capitalized.
Finally, collective adjectives for nationality have to be learned by heart, as we don’t have collective adjectives for all nationalities. For example, to refer to a group of German people, we have to say the Germans or simply Germans, which is a plural proper noun—a corresponding collective adjective doesn’t exist for German people. Other examples include (the) Canadians, (the) Russians, (the) Americans, and (the) Slovaks.

How to use collective adjectives

Using collective adjectives is simple. There are only a couple of things that we need to remember:
  • 1. We always add the article the before the adjective (except for nationalities that use plural proper nouns).
  • 2. We always treat collective adjectives as plural nouns. This means that they have to take plural forms of verbs.
  • 3. We do not pluralize collective adjectives by adding the suffixes -s or -es. They are already considered plural (except for nationalities that use plural proper nouns).
Let’s look at some examples:
  • The rich are usually powerful.”
  • The French are the best chefs.”
  • The elderly need proper care.”
In these examples, the rich, the French, and the elderly function as the subjects of the sentences. They are treated as plurals, which is why the sentences use the plural forms of the verbs be and need.
Collective adjectives can also function as the object of a sentence, as in:
  • “We are working hard to help the homeless.”
In this example, the subject of the sentence is we, while the object is the collective adjective the homeless.

Common Errors

Collective adjectives are often confused with collective nouns, but there are key differences. While they both refer to a group of people, collective nouns (such as team, staff or class) are inherently nouns in structure and function; collective adjectives, on the other hand, are adjectives that merely function as nouns.
Additionally, collective nouns are often treated as singular (as in, “The best team is going to win”), whereas collective adjectives, as we have mentioned, are always treated as plural.

1. Which of the following is a collective adjective?

2. Which of the following is not a collective adjective?

3. Collective adjectives are always ____.

4. In the following sentence, which word or words should be capitalized?
“i want to help the poor.”

5. Collective adjectives are adjectives that function as ____.

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