We know that adjectives are words that modify (or describe) nouns, such as the word red in “the red jacket,” or the word beautiful in “that girl is beautiful.”
Nominal adjectives, on the other hand, are adjectives that perform the function of a noun in a sentence. They are preceded by the word the and can be found as the subject or the object of a sentence or clause. For example:
- “The elderly are a great source of wisdom.”
- “The French have amazing restaurants.”
- “The opposite of up is down.”
- “The best is yet to come.”
In the examples above, the nominal adjectives do not modify any other noun—they’re acting as nouns themselves. Specifically, they are performing the function of the subject of the sentences, but, as we mentioned, they can also function as objects. For example:
- “We should treat the elderly with respect.”
- “This law protects the innocent.”
- “We all want the best for her.”
Uses of Nominal Adjectives
Nominal adjectives perform several different functions. Some nominal adjectives are used to refer to a group of people who all share a certain characteristic, which can be a physical or non-physical characteristic. Other nominal adjectives refer to a characteristic of an individual person or thing. We’ll look at each type of nominal adjective separately.
Collective adjectives are nominal adjectives that are used to refer to groups of people. Sometimes they refer to a shared physical characteristic, such as the blind, the deaf, the short, or the tall. Other times, they refer to non-physical characteristics, like the hardworking, the intelligent, the poor, or the rich.
In each of these cases, the nominal adjective takes the place of a lengthier description, such as “all the people who are rich,” or “all the intelligent people.”
Collective adjectives can also refer to some nationalities, such as the Chinese, the English, or the French.
If you’d like to learn more about collective adjectives, they are covered in greater depth in their own section.
Comparative and superlative forms
Adjectives in their comparative or superlative form can also be nominal adjectives. Comparative adjectives are those that end in “-er” or are preceded by the word more, as in stronger, taller, cleverer, more beautiful, etc. They are used to compare two things. Have a look at these examples of nominal adjectives in comparative form:
- “His brother is the taller, but he is the cleverer.”
- “They gave the prize to the more beautiful of the two.”
- “Of the two cars, we chose the more expensive.”
Superlative adjectives are those that end in “-est” or are preceded by the word most, such as strongest, tallest, most beautiful, most clever, etc. They compare three or more things, and they can function as nominal adjectives in the same way that comparatives can. For example:
- “Dan is the strongest.”
- “I want the best for you.”
- “Whenever we have a job to do, you give me the most difficult.”
Most of the time, nominal adjectives are collective, comparative, and superlative adjectives. However, just about any adjective can be made nominal. They can make sentences shorter and more concise by avoiding repetitive use of a noun. Here are some instances in which nominal adjectives might be preferable:
- “I liked the red car but we bought the blue.” (nominal adjective)
- instead of
- “I like the red car but we bought the blue car.”
- Speaker A: “Which color did you like best?”
- Speaker B: “I thought the blue was the prettiest.” (nominal adjective)
- instead of
- Speaker B: “I thought the blue color was the prettiest.”
- “You’ve heard the good news, now I’ll tell you the bad.”
- instead of
- “You’ve heard the good news, now I’ll tell you the bad news.”
You may have noticed that a lot of these examples could be worded differently. For example, when using collective adjectives, we can just as easily say “French people” instead of “the French,” or “poor people” instead of “the poor.”
With comparative and superlative forms, we can add a noun to provide more emphasis or clarity. For example, we could say “He was the stronger man of the two” instead of “he was the stronger” or “I want the best thing for you” instead of “I want the best for you.”
Often, we can also replace a noun with the pronoun one instead of using a nominal adjective. For example, “you take the green t-shirt, I’ll take the blue one” instead of “you take the green t-shirt, I’ll take the blue.”
In many cases, these options are less formal than using a nominal adjective.