What Are Nominal Adjectives?

nominal adjectives
Typically speaking, adjectives are known to modify nouns. Interestingly, however, English grammar, like some other languages, allows some adjectives to function as nouns. These adjectives are called nominal adjectives.

What are nominal adjectives?
Nominal adjectives are adjectives that perform the function of a noun in a sentence. They are preceded by the definitely article ‘the’ and can be found as the subject or the object of a sentence or clause.
1. The elderly are a great source of wisdom.

2. The just have their rewards in Heaven.

3. The opposite of up is down.

4. 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.
1. We should treat the elderly with respect. (‘the elderly’ is an object of ‘treat’.)

2. This law protects the innocent.
(‘the innocent’ is object of the verb ‘protects’.)

3. We all want the best for her. (‘The best’ is an object of  ‘want’.)

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
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 blindthe deafthe short, or the tall. Other times, they refer to non-physical characteristics like the hardworkingthe intelligentthe 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 Chinesethe English, or the French.

Collective (Nominal) Adjectives vs Collective Nouns
So what is the difference between collective nouns and collective adjectives?

1. Collective nouns are always nouns that refer to a group of things or people; e.g.,  a group, a bunch, etc.

Here, group and bunch are both nouns ‘naturally’. By naturally,  I mean that it is the word group to which they belong and, as such, are not acting as nouns but rather are nouns.

However, nominal adjectives are typical  adjective that only function as nouns in a certain usage circumstance.

2. Collective nouns are used basically with singular verbs, but can sometimes be used with plural verbs when they refer to the individual members of a group.

Note, however, that the above is only the case in British English as, in American English, collective nouns are always singular and go with singular verbs.

3. Collective adjectives, on the other hand, are always plural so go with plural verbs.

Collective Adjectives and Non Collective Adjectives
You can see that whilst I've just said that collective adjectives always take plural verbs, we can see examples 3 and 4 using singular verbs. It is so because not all nominal adjectives are collective adjectives. Confused? Don't be, dear.

We are treating nominal adjectives, and it's important to note that nominal adjectives can be divided into two types: collective nominal adjectives and ‘non collective nominal adjectives.

Now, you can see that in the repeated examples below, the first two nominal adjectives (‘The elderly’ and ‘The French’  ) each took  plural verbs. This is because they are collective nominal adjectives. The last two (‘The opposite’ and ‘The best’), however, are not collective so go with singular nouns.

Collective Nominal Adjectives
1. The elderly are a great source of wisdom.

2. The French have amazing restaurants.

Singular (Non Collective) Nominal Adjectives
1.The opposite of up is down.

2.The best is yet to come.

The word ‘opposite’ refers not to a group of things or people with similarities. Instead, it refers only to other side (not sides) of ‘up’.
‘The best,’ in this context, refers to the superlative form of the say three things compared.  So, its reference is to one person or thing.

It can also be made to refer to a group in another context. For instance, in the regional levels of the Ghana's Most Beautiful pageantry, just one person emerges as the ‘best’, so the best at regional levels is not collective. But when individual regional bests meet in Accra, they can collectively be referred to us ‘the best’ and should, in this context, take a plural verb.

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 strongertallercleverermore beautifulmore intelligent etc.

They are used to compare two things. Have a look at these examples of nominal adjectives in comparative form:
1. His brother is the taller, but he is the cleverer.

2. They gave the prize to the more beautiful of the two.

3. Of the two cars, we chose the more expensive.

Superlative Adjectives
Superlative adjectives are those that end in “-est” or are preceded by the word most, such as strongesttallestmost beautifulmost clever, etc. They compare three or more things, and they can function as nominal adjectives in the same way that comparatives can.
1. Dan is the strongest. (Here it's functioning a subject complement)

2. I want the best for you. ( Here, ‘the best’ is functioning as the object of the verb ‘want’ because it's behaving as a noun)

3. Whenever we have a job to do, you give me the most difficult(‘The most difficult’ here is the direct object of the verb ‘give’)

© Ebenezer Boakye Agyemang


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