I have a problem forming the correct singular and plural forms of adjective nouns, e.g. (the) old(s), her young(s), (the) red(s), (the) relative(s), (the) saint(s), (the) possible(s), (the) sick(s). Could someone explain or recommend an article?

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    What makes you think they are all adjectives?
    – BillJ
    Jun 18 '20 at 14:35

Two of your examples are not adjectives used as nouns, but simply nouns: "saint" and "relative".

"Saint" is never an adjective. The adjective form is "saintly".

"Relative" is a word with at least two definitions. It can be used as an adjective meaning "considered in comparison to something else". Like, "Bob's house is large relative to my house." But this use is rarely if ever used as a noun. It can also be a noun meaning "a member of a family", like, "My living relatives include my mother and 3 brothers."

But that said ...

Most of the other examples you give are used as collective nouns. For example, we say, "The sick need a doctor", meaning, "Sick people need a doctor." In such cases we use the word "the" followed by the singular form. "The sick ...", "the young ...", "the possible ...", etc.

The only exception I see among your example is "red". If I was talking about some objects that come in literal different colors, pieces of some kind of candy perhaps, I'd probably say, "I like the reds best", not "the red". Similarly, if we're talking about communists, we sometimes call them "the Reds". Frankly I'm not sure why this is different. I'll gladly yield to someone who can explain this special case.

  • How about the forms like „sicks“? Could we say „Sicks need a doctor.“? I remember the form „the possibles“ from a novel. How does it differ from the form „the possible“? I understand the form „the possibles“ implies a noun, not an adjective noun. Am I right? How do the forms „the passing“ and „the deceased“ differ from the forms „passing“ and „deceased“? If I want to express singular meaning, do I have to add a noun, e.g. a sick person? Jun 18 '20 at 16:22
  • I have never heard anyone say "sicks need a doctor". Likewise I've never heard anyone use "possibles" as a noun. Obviously I can't say that no one has ever said this, but I can't think of an example. There IS a famous quote from Donald Rumsfeld where he talked about how there are "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns", i.e. things that we realize that we don't know, and things that we don't realize that we don't know. As I said, adjectives used as noun are USUALLY used as uncountable nouns, like "the sick". In the Rumsfeld example, he really need to make it countable to make his point ...
    – Jay
    Jun 18 '20 at 21:02
  • ... so instead of saying "the known" he said "knowns", etc. I'm really struggling to come up with any general rule about when this is "acceptable". Perhaps the "rule" is that if it works as an uncountable noun, that's the "normal", but if you need to make it countable for the sentence to make sense, okay. I'll plead here for anyone who can give a definitive answer to chime in!
    – Jay
    Jun 18 '20 at 21:04

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