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I have some doubts about which form, "the rich" or "the rich people", that I should use here:

  1. Some people think that the rich don't pay enough tax.
  2. Some people think that the rich people don't pay enough tax.

Which of the two sentences is acceptable English? And what part of speech is the word "rich" in both #1 and #2, adjective or noun?

  • In high-tax countries (like the U.S., Canada, and most of Western Europe), some people realize that the rich would pay more taxes if the tax rates were lower. This ironically increases the reported difference in income between the rich and the poor, because it makes it cheaper (per dollar of declared income) for the rich to declare income. (When marginal tax rates are above 50 percent, it makes more sense to work to lower one's taxes than to increase one's income.) – Jasper Dec 9 '14 at 23:49
  • @Roman Dryndik You really should wait a while, like a day at least, before accepting an answer. Note that the word "rich" is an adjective in both #1 and #2, because it can be modified by adverbs, such as "extremely": compare "the extremely rich" and "the extremely rich people". But now, what is the sense of anyone writing a new answer post since you have already accepted an answer? (shrugs) – F.E. Dec 10 '14 at 0:19
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    @F.E. I was just finishing off my (not very good) post when you were posting up that comment. Should I take it you've got a post on this somewhere else? – Araucaria Dec 10 '14 at 0:33
  • @Araucaria I think I've seen a good answer, one or two of them recently nearby . . . But I was merely wanting to read some answers here, as a procrastination break. – F.E. Dec 10 '14 at 0:36
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In Sentence 1, the word rich functions as a mass noun. In Sentence 2, rich is an adjective modifying people.

To express it in a more natural way, you really should remove the word "the" from the second sentence:

1.Some people think that the rich don't pay enough tax.
2.Some people think that rich people don't pay enough tax.

When used as a mass noun, we use the word "the" in front of the word "rich." The same goes for poor:

You will always have the poor among you. (Matt 26:11, NLT)

but this article gets omitted with the word is used as an adjective modifying people:

Everything was shiny and new. Even the sun seemed brighter. There were no poor people here. Where had they gone? (Charles Fleming, 2004)

Check out the Macmillan entry for rich for more on this:

rich (adj) 1 owning a lot of money, property, or valuable possessions : *His invention has made him a rich man._

a. the rich people who have a great deal of money, property, or valuable possessions : a tax-cutting program that will only benefit the rich

(the) rich and (the) poor : the increasing gap between the rich and the poor

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  1. Some people think that the rich don't pay enough tax.
  2. Some people think that the rich people don't pay enough tax.

Sentence 1

In sentence (1) we have a determiner plus adjective combination, where the is the determiner and rich is the adjective. According to writers like Huddleston & Pullum et al (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language 2002) this is a type of Noun Phrase - even though, as they say, it has no nouns in it!

We can clearly show that rich is an adjective here, not a noun. Most importantly, we cannot use adverbs to pre-modify nouns, but we can use them with adjectives:

  • a very big lion
  • the very rich
  • *a very banana (ungrammatical)

There does not seem to be any limit to the type of adverbs we can use to modify rich in this way:

  • The unexpectedly rich
  • The quietly rich
  • The extremely rich
  • The brazenly rich

All of the above can function as the subjects or objects of sentences and are perfectly grammatical.

This type of construction must have the determiner the. If it does not, the sentence will be ungrammatical:

  • *Rich don't pay enough tax. (ungrammatical)
  • *Some rich don't pay enough tax. (ungrammatical)

Sentence 2

In sentence (2) rich is an adjective modifying the noun people. This sentence is grammatical. However, at the moment it does not mean exactly the same as sentence (1). The reason is that, when we want to talk about things in general, we do not use the definite article with normal Noun Phrases. We use no article at all:

  • Love is the most important thing in life.
  • *The love is the most important thing in the life. (ungrammatical or a very strange meaning)

At the moment sentence (2) doesn't refer to rich people in general. It refers to a specific group of rich people. We know this because it uses the definite article the. Maybe it is referring to the rich people in a particular town, or the rich people in the entertainment industry. It isn't talking about people in general though. If we want to make the sentence have a similar meaning to sentence (1) we need to remove the article:

  • Some people think that rich people don't pay enough tax.

Notice that the grammar for this sentence is different from sentence (1). We can use constructions like the rich or the lucky to refer to rich people in general or lucky people in general.

Hope this is helpful!

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