Adjectives Used as Nouns (Nominal Adjectives)

French adjectives uses like nouns
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Adjectifs substantivés / nominalisés

In both French and English, many adjectives can be used as nouns as a sort of shorthand to reference what you’d otherwise need an adjective + noun to refer to. This can be done with both singular and plural adjectives, but the grammar is a bit different.

Singular nominal adjectives

When using an adjective that replaces or references a singular noun, the adjective needs either an antecedent …

Par exemple…

– Tu veux le stylo bleu ou noir ?
– Le bleu.
  – Do you want the blue pen or the black (one)?
– The blue (one).
Le petit panier est mignon mais le grand sera plus utile.   The little basket is cute but the big one will be more useful.

… or a modifier:

J’aime bien le bleu de l’océan ce matin.   I love the blue (color) of the ocean this morning.
Le plus grand des deux paniers sera plus utile.   The larger of the two baskets will be more useful.

Plural nominal adjectives

Most adjectives that are used as nouns when referring to a group of people do not have an s in English, though they do in French.

les accidentés   the injured*
les accusés   the accused*
les aveugles   the blind
les blessés   the injured*
les célèbres   the famous
les chomeurs**   the unemployed
les débonnaires   the meek
les handicapés   the disabled
les faibles   the weak
les innoncents   the innocent
les jeunes   the young
les malades   the sick
les morts   the dead
les opprimés   the oppressed
les pauvres   the poor
les privilégiés   the privileged few
les riches   the rich
les sans-abris**   the homeless
les sans-emplois**   the unemployed
les sourds   the deaf
les défavorisés   the underprivileged
les vieux   the elderly
les vivants   the living

 * These adjectives can be used as both singular and plural nouns in English. For the rest, you must include the noun when you mean for it to be singular, e.g., the blind man, the elderly woman. Without the noun, it’s automatically plural: the blind [people], the elderly [people].

** In French, these words are actually nouns, not adjectives pretending to be nouns.

Nationalities and Races

This is the exception to the above. Again, in French, these all have a plural marker, but English is trickier: some take an "s" while others don’t. Generally speaking, if it’s grammatically correct to use the noun without "the" in English (whether or not you actually use it), it takes an "s" in the plural.

les Africains   (the) Africans
les Américains   (the) Americans
les Blancs   (the) Whites
les Coréens   (the) Koreans
les Grecs   (the) Greeks

Nationalities that end in -ch, -se, or -sh in English can’t be used as nouns without "the" and do not take an -s in the plural.***

les Espagnols   the Spanish
les Français   the French
les Japonais   the Japanese
les Polonais   the Polish
les Sénégalais   the Senegalese

 *** In English, to talk about a single person belonging to one of these nationalities, you need to attach a noun or suffix: French man, Senegalese woman, Polish guy, Spaniard.

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French adjectives used as nouns

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