I heard it was possible to make a noun from an adjective like:

They are poor and live there. All the poors live there.

We mean "poor people" by the adjective "poor" + "s", like the plural form of the adjective.

But can I say just "poor" meaning then only one poor person? Or I can but only with "the" like:

The poor is there.

But wouldn't it be taken for "poverty" or "poorness"?

But What to do if the adjective is "homeless"?

They are homeless and live there. All the "homelesses" live there. This way?

And just "the homeless" would mean a single homeless person?

I hope you see what I mean


If you turn an adjective into a noun just my using it as a noun, referring to the whole class of individuals to whom the adjective could be applied, like

"Give me your tired, your poor..."

Then you create a mass (uncountable) noun.

If you use it to create a singular noun that refers to an individual, like calling someone of African extraction "a black" or someone homosexual "a gay", then it's countable - and usually offensive. If you then pluralise it, you are talking about those individuals as a collection of individuals, rather than as a 'mass'. And it usually gets even more offensive.

  • So, if I say, I saw a poor person, I can say: "I saw a poor". It will be correct but offensive, right? Because if I can say "I saw a black", then I shoud be able to say"I saw a poor". – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 8:09
  • Not correct so much as readily understandable. Offensive, though. – SamBC Feb 14 at 10:39
  • But what the difference between 'black" and "poor" if "a black" is okay but "a poor" isn't? – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 10:41
  • Simply the degree to which the term is attested. – SamBC Feb 14 at 10:44
  • No, if you say that "I saw a black" is correct grammatically, but "I saw a poor" isn't correct. Then what is the word difference here? – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 11:10

That is a slang construction that exists in English, but to call a single person "a poor" or a group of people "the poors" is really derogatory. It's similarly offensive to calling someone "an illegal" or "a gay" or calling a group of people "the illegals" or "the gays." Identifying a person by an adjective alone, without a noun that identifies personhood, is almost always an impolite construction.

Using a singular adjective to refer to a single person, or a plural adjective to refer to a group of people is typically offensive.

On the other hand, using a singular adjective to refer to a group of people who fit a certain category--"the poor," "the wealthy," "the homeless"--is not offensive. Consider the famous motto of Robin Hood ("Steal from the rich and give to the poor").

There isn't such a word as "homelesses" because the phrase "the homeless" already refers to the entire population of people who are homeless. One homeless person would be referred to as a "homeless man" or "homeless woman."

  • 1
    "to call a single person "a poor" or a group of people "the poors" is really derogatory." It's not even that. It's bad English. – Michael Harvey Feb 13 at 21:59
  • 1
    There are exceptions, though. In the movie The Untouchables, "untouchable" was a complement. – Acccumulation Feb 13 at 21:59
  • @Acccumulation That's why I said "almost always" and not "always." I will note that there is another meaning of "untouchables" which is a derogatory term used for a particular caste in India. – Katy Feb 13 at 22:01
  • Here's a google ngrams of the derogatory terms I mentioned in the answer for those who are interested. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Katy Feb 13 at 22:16
  • 1
    @MichaelAzarenko No. You should only use the singular adjective "the poor" to refer to a category of people. If you intend to speak about a singular poor person, you should say "I saw a poor person." If you heard someone refer to someone else as "a poor" or "a black" or a group as "the poors" or "the blacks" you should understand that it's not only impolite but actively and aggressively offensive. As an English language learner, you might be forgiven for unintentional offense. If a native speaker said either, I would be unlikely to continue a conversation with them. – Katy Feb 14 at 10:44

You've gotten the wrong idea. Usually when we refer to a group by an adjective that describes them, the word is not made plural.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

It's not "give me your tireds, your poors...the homelsses..."

There are examples that don't fit the usual pattern, such as the blacks, the gays, the hispanics. I don't have an explanation for why these words exist, but fortunately, you can more or less forget about their existence, since many, if not most English speakers today find these labels offensive.

  • I think "the poors" is one of those exceptions today... – user45266 Feb 14 at 1:20
  • So, I cna't say "the poors", the only correct way is to say "the poor"? But can I say "a poor"? And if I can say "the blacks", can I say "the black" or "a black" and what would they then mean? – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 8:23
  • 3
    If you follow the normal pattern, you must say "the poor" (not the poors) to refer to the entire collection of poor people, and "a poor person" (not a poor) to refer to one person who is poor. Can you say "a black"? You can in the sense that you can produce the sounds and the sounds will likely be interpreted as a person whose skin is quite dark. And if you don't speak fluent English your listener may even forgive you for using a non-standard construction (you should say "a black person"). If you sound fluent and you say "a black," your listener will understand that you're racist. – Juhasz Feb 14 at 16:02
  • 1) What do you mean by "normal pattern"? It's due to the grammar itself or only some moral way of looking at "the poors" by other people. I mean is it correct for grammar or it's wrong the same way like "He are working"? 2) We can mean "the poor" instead of "the poor people" or "poor people"? 3) The plural noun can be meant by the absence of itself like "the poor(it's meant "people")" but the singular MUST ALWAYS contain the noun,right? Only "a poor person"? No "a poor" or just "poor". Omitting of the noun can be only with the plural, correct? Then "a poor" should exist too like "a black" – Michael Azarenko Feb 15 at 10:30

Certainly it is possible to make nouns from adjectives, but in this case "the poor" is already a noun. To paraphrase the common translation of a quote from Anatole France:

In its majestic equality, the law forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

In this case "the poor" refers to the general class of people who are poor. "Poverty" on the other hand, refers to the condition of being poor, which is not the same thing.

In the same way, someone who is "homeless* belongs to the class of people referred to as "the homeless". "Homelessness" is the noun describing that condition. Similarly the final stanza in the United States national anthem:

o'er (over) the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Where "the free" and "the brave" represent the group of people characterized by freedom and bravery.

While "the poor" is a common descriptive noun, "the poors" would be considered slang, and sounds derogatory. This is circumstantial and based on context. Other created nouns might sound just fine:

Adopters of new technology can be divided into two groups of those who are optimistic and those who are skeptical -- or as I like to call them, the confidents and the hesitants.

In this case the adjectives describe the essential character of each group. You'd have to get the actual meaning of these terms from context.

  • Alright, so, we can take any adjective and say The American are in America The hairy are in the barber shop The brawny are in the gym. But can we do it with the paticiple like "burned" or "killed"? The burned are in the oven. The killed are at the cemetery? And all of them will be correct and normal while the same examples with "s" would be impolite but still correct? The Americans are in America The hairies are in the barber shop The brawnies are in the gym. But how to say then the impolite way with the paritciple? We can't say "burneds" or "killeds" – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 8:19
  • @MichaelAzarenko Sure, the "hairies" and the "brawnies" are perfectly fun made-up nouns. But "the burned" is a common English phrase, (e.g. "The burned were taken to the intensive care unit at City Hospital"), while "the killed" is possible but inelegant, as there are other phrases that already work such as "the slain" or "the fallen", depending on context. – Andrew Feb 14 at 8:34
  • But then the sentence "The Americans are in America" is rude because of the "s", isn't it? And all of it for the plural. Can I do the same with singular like "A brawny is there", "a killed is there"? – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 10:33
  • @MichaelAzarenko The nuance varies with the word you use. Some words are fun. Some are derogatory. Some are clever. Some just sound stupid. Something like "the killed" sounds fine in the right context (e.g. "We cannot even count all of the killed and the maimed, for the government has erased their names so completely that it as if they never existed in the first place"), but "the killed are in the cemetery" just sounds clumsy, at least without any additional explanation. – Andrew Feb 14 at 15:35
  • No, it doesn't matter if it sounds awkward. The main point is if it is correc due to the grammar. "I saw a brawny" - okay for grammar? Offensive or neutral? "I saw the brawny" - okay for grammar? Offensive or neutral? "I saw the brawnies" - okay for grammar? Offensive or neutral? "I saw brawnies" - okay for grammar? Offensive or neutral? – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 15:46

A generic plural noun formed from an adjective describing people, e.g. poor, rich, homeless, dead, fast, slow, etc is identical to the adjective, thus to discuss poor people generically we would say 'the poor' (not 'the poors'). The poor have little money; the rich have much money; the dead cannot speak; the homeless need our help. "The homeless" used alone means "all homeless people, or homeless people in general". The homeless find it harder to get jobs.

  • The quick and the dead. Ha ha. – Lambie Feb 13 at 22:14
  • When crossing a busy road? – Michael Harvey Feb 13 at 22:43
  • So, "the poors" is incorrect? But in the previous comments it was said to be okay having said "the poors". The problem is in this "less"? If we say "stray", then it would work, wouldn't it? Like "the stray are there. In your opinion "the strays" can't exist, too, right? – Michael Azarenko Feb 14 at 8:14
  • We would use 'the stray' to talk about stray people in general (generically), although it is not a common usage, and 'the strays' to talk about a particular group of stray people. – Michael Harvey Feb 14 at 8:47
  • Aaaaaa, I got it=))) So, I can say "the poor" and it will mean poor people in general(like all of them). If I say "the poors" it will mean poor people but some definite people.(=the poor people) Soooo, you mean "the poors" = "the poor people" and "the poor" = "poor people"? – Michael Azarenko Feb 15 at 11:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.