Which best fits this sentence?

For conferencing to happen, internet connection is _________.

  1. mandatory
  2. a mandatory

When I try to search, I found both of them in use and I got confused.

  • Mandatory is not a noun, so it can not ever be "a mandatory", though you can certainly use it, as you would any adjective, to modify a noun "a mandatory feature". Can you please explain why you think "a mandatory" is correct?
    – Catija
    May 15, 2017 at 21:15
  • Well, it sounded correct and when I try to search, I found both of them in use and I got confused. Thank you though.
    – Heni
    May 15, 2017 at 21:23

3 Answers 3


The sentence "X is Y", where X is a noun and Y is an adjective, is an unexceptional sentence. "Jim is old", "cats are friendly", "attendance is mandatory."

The sentence "X is a Y", where X is a noun and Y is an adjective, implies the adjective has been promoted to a noun for some reason.

Almost any adjective can be promoted to a noun, but fairly few ever are. For example, if you said, "Jim is deplorable", you are implying Jim deserves strong condemnation for some reason.

If you said, "Jim is a deplorable", that means something very different.

Last year, Hillary Clinton was running for president and said, "To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of [her opponent Donald] Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it." (Whatever else you say about her remark, she managed to promote six adjectives to nouns.)

In reaction, many Trump supporters tagged themselves "deplorables"; saying "Jim is a deplorable" means specifically he is a Trump supporter.

"Mandatory" has no such widespread use as a noun, but it's easy to see how it could happen in a community. Perhaps in your academic department, some courses are optional and others are mandatory, and this distinction is widely understood; the phrase "a mandatory" might come to mean "a mandatory course" -- just as in the workplace a temporary worker is "a temp", or in a haberdashery a large-size suit (or a large-size customer) is "a large".

Within the context of your department, you might easily say, "Occ Civ [Occidental Civilization] is a mandatory"; out that context, the sentence would be unintelligible.

  • This sort of answer is why we don't close this sort of question: it correctly covers what would seem to be a large pool of possibilities without going on for pages. May 16, 2017 at 2:25
  • It would be improved if a more common, less polarizing example was used.
    – Catija
    May 16, 2017 at 18:01
  • @Catija -- given the amount of coverage the election has received, I don't think there is a more widely used example. As for "polarizing", presumably Hillary supporters won't object to their own candidate's quote; Trump supporters have embraced the word (ironically, but still); those like myself who would be happy to see both of them staked out on anthills just don't care. May 16, 2017 at 19:58
  • It is completely unnecessary to bring a political example into a question that has no relation to it when there are so many other options. In fact, I'd argue that your answer spends more time talking about the event than the actual usage.
    – Catija
    May 16, 2017 at 20:04
  • @Catija -- vivid and memorable examples are the beating heart of a good education! I think six separate uses in just two paragraphs is an economical use of text. May 16, 2017 at 20:08

In both the cases, mandatory is an adjective. What you're missing is the context.

  1. is mandatory

  2. is a mandatory

Structure #1 is obvious.

For conferencing to happen, internet connection is mandatory.

Structure #2 doesn't stand alone. Mandatory is describing a noun and whatever it is describing must follow.

For conferencing to happen, internet connection is a mandatory condition.

  • ... I'm not sure which one you're saying is a noun and which is an adjective but neither of those is a noun usage...
    – Catija
    May 15, 2017 at 21:58
  • I'm not sure why this answer was downvoted. I upvoted it. @Catija, Peter isn't saying that either one is a noun. He's saying that "mandatory is an adjective" and therefore that "a mandatory" must be followed by a noun. This is pretty much the case, although Malvolio's "It's easy to see how this could happen in a community" makes a good point.
    – BobRodes
    May 16, 2017 at 2:48
  • 1
    @BobRodes the first non-quoted sentence is literally "mandatory is a noun".
    – Catija
    May 16, 2017 at 2:50
  • Now, how did I read "mandatory is an adjective" there? :) Sorry.
    – BobRodes
    May 16, 2017 at 3:04
  • @Catija I don't think the author meant that mandatory is a noun; he said that it was describing a noun that must follow. He was just, well, struggling to communicate this. His second example is an evidence of this. May 25, 2017 at 6:56

Mandatory can be used as a noun, as can virtually any other adjective. For example, Russian communists used to be called "Reds" after the color they identified their movement with. High-beam headlights for a long time were called "brights"—an adjective serving as a noun. There are countless other examples in English.

The primary use of the word mandatory is as an adjective, but it could be used as a noun under the right circumstances. For example,

There are certain mandatories that must be followed to do this job correctly: be attentive, be prompt, be courteous.

Compare this with the adjectival phrase "nice to have," which is turned into a noun with increasing frequency:

That is not a mandatory condition, but we all feel it is a "nice-to-have."

This is how people talk in the real world of English, whatever anyone else may tell you. Also note that the plural form, mandatories, is listed by some dictionaries as a noun all by itself, referring to people who have been given a mandate, or who are mandataries.

  • I'll jump on the bandwagon. :) "A nice-to-have" is a form of slang IMO. I hear it all the time in my job as a gatherer of software application requirements, because it is a useful shortening of "a feature that would be nice to have." Probably because of that, "a must-have" is pretty common as well, as in "it's not a must-have, it's just a nice-to-have." But I don't expect that I would see those in common usage: "A new iPad is a nice-to-have but cell phone is a must-have for me" seems less likely than "I could use an iPad but I have to have a new cell phone."
    – BobRodes
    May 16, 2017 at 3:03
  • Believe what you like. You have the right to be wrong. What I said is true even if it be unpopular here.
    – Robusto
    May 16, 2017 at 3:24
  • Don't we all believe what we like? I didn't disagree with what you said; slang is part of the real world of English. If you want to say that it is NOT slang, then prove it. Furthermore, statements that are unproven and stated as true "no matter what anyone else may tell you" are unpopular pretty much everywhere, because people who make statements like that are going out of their way to be confrontational.
    – BobRodes
    May 16, 2017 at 4:01
  • Nah. What I said is just a reaction to the baby-purée English that gets promulgated on this site. And my point is that popularity is for high-school homecoming kings and queens—it has little to do with truth.
    – Robusto
    May 16, 2017 at 4:29
  • I don't disagree that popularity has little to do with truth. If you should find examples of promotion of "baby-purée English" in my posts, I'd consider it a favor if you would point them out to me. Doesn't sound like anything I'd like to promote.
    – BobRodes
    May 16, 2017 at 18:30

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