Two dictionary sentences share the phrase "border on the ridiculous".

The play's dialog borders on the ridiculous. (Merriam Webster)

His suggestion borders on the ridiculous. (Cambridge)

I wonder if this is a case of attaching the definite article to an adjective to make a noun phrase with the adjective "ridiculous" being the head of the NP. Is that the case? If so why is an NP needed in the first place? If this is not the case, why is the definite article needed?

  • 1
    You're half-right. "Ridiculous" is an adjective in a fused modifier-head NP, hence the article being required. The syntax is the same as "the blind/rich/poor" etc., all adjectives in fused head NPs.
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 18:01
  • @BillJ This makes the grammar crystal clear now. Thanks!
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


"The"+{adjective} is often used to make a noun phrase meaning "the category or set of things that are {adjective}". For example:

  • Lewis Carrol's "Alice" books create a new form of the absurd.
  • Many painters no longer explore the surreal.
  • Stephan King's novels are modern explorations of the horrific.

These could all be rewritten to use a different construction:

The play's dialog is almost ridiculous.

But the "borders on" version suggests that "the ridiculous" is a thing, an area perhaps, which the play comes close to entering. It also suggests that everyone will agree on what constitutes "the ridiculous", as if it could be shown on a map. These nuances are not present in the rewritten version.

I note that the examples that come to my mind all involve literary or artistic criticism, although I don't think the form is limited to that use.

Edit One could say:

X borders on ridiculous.

meaning "X is almost ridiculous." Or one could say:

X borders on the ridiculous.

meaning that "X is nearly in the category of ridiculous things". The difference is subtle and in this case not very important, but there is a difference in meaning.

I should add that using the form "the ridiculous." implies that there is a single category that constitutes the ridiculous, and that everyone agrees, or should agree, on what it is. This form can be used to preempt discussion of what is and what is not ridiculous. This form can seem pompous, or can suggest that the speaker has superior expertise in the subject, is one of the insiders who defines the category.

Also "... borders on the ridiculous" can be a form of ironic understatement, meaning "it really is ridiculous, but I am too polite to say so directly."

  • The genesis of my question question lies in that I am not so sure border on needs a noun phrase complement. There is a plethora of examples of border on + adjective: "...even occasionally bordering on optimistic" and border on happy.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 16:57
  • @Eddie Kal see my edited answer Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 17:05
  • @Jasper. Yes i have made the correction. Thanks. Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 17:06
  • Definitely makes sense. +1.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 17:35

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