The example sentence below is an excerpt from M. A. K. Halliday's Linguistics as Metaphor:

[...] each discipline has tended to fragment into separate "branches"; linguistics, apart from its traditional split into historical and descriptive, held together until fairly late, but it too has now become a collection of specializations.

Since there is no information on this kind of usage in the into entry in OED, this seems to me like an omission (of the word linguistics) for good reason, so I searched Linggle:

Firms are divided into large and small based on median total assets.
The result would be a two-tiered society divided into rich and poor.
A division of the world into left and right that is equally inapplicable to the past and to the present deserves to be discarded.
I think we could divide up the section 502 money into new and existing, using 60 percent for ...
Sensations are commonly classified into internal and external, but the meaning given to internal sensations today is not the same as formerly.

And there are some sentences with adjectives that are more frequently used as nouns even without a preceding "the", about which I'm less certain that they are in the same vein with the initial example:

In the four-field matrix, the intensity of cooperation and competition is divided into low and high, while in the nine-field matrix is split into low, medium, and high.
The sonnets differ in that the focus turns in the first poem to individual reactions to death, dividing people into good and bad.

Is this kind of usages naive omissions for brevity's sake, or is it under a particular grammatical category of its own right?

  • 1
    I don't know what you mean by "naive", but yes, the nouns in all the cases you found are elided for the sake of brevity. There's no special grammatical category here.
    – gotube
    Nov 18, 2022 at 2:41
  • @gotube It seems that a more fitting wording here should be "pure and simple" instead of "naive". Thanks for your elucidation on both points.
    – magni
    Nov 18, 2022 at 3:01
  • 2
    Yes, in that case, they're pure and simple elisions.
    – gotube
    Nov 18, 2022 at 3:07
  • I suggest this question to be migrated to english.stackexchange.com
    – Emre Bener
    Mar 21, 2023 at 7:19
  • 1
    @Mephisto This seems to me perfectly appropriate here, and not in need of migration. Mar 21, 2023 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


... linguistics, apart from its traditional split into historical and descriptive, held together until fairly late, but it too has now become a collection of specializations.

The phrase "split into historical and descriptive" is a shortened form of "split into historical linguistics and descriptive linguistics". Such an omission of a repeated noun, leaving modifiers to stand as if they were nouns, when the sense is reasonably clear, is very common in English. It is not limited to a particular construction or situation. It is one of the ways in which adjectives and adverbs can come to be used as independent nouns. It is not specific with the construction "{X} is divided into {A} and {B}" although it can indeed be (and often is) used with that construction.

Some examples would be:

  • We tend to discuss sounds as either loud or soft. [short for "loud sounds or soft sounds".]
  • A programming language can be both functional and declarative. [Derived from "functional programming"and "declarative programming".]
  • People speak of fortunes as being composed of either new or old money. [Short for "new money or old money". ]
  • Some will divide the population into tall and short. [Short for "tall people and short people".]
  • My insurance covers me for both inpatient and outpatient. [Omitting "procedures" or "visits" after "inpatient" and "outpatient".]
  • In the story of Aladdin the evil magician calls out "New lamps for old." [Short for "old lamps".]

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