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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 …
|– 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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