From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

I’ve thought a ‘the + adjective’ means a group of people not a person. But the case has a singular meaning. Is the form used in both ways?

  • Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Rick's is the strangest. That's just an ordinary ‘the + adjective’ construction referencing a singular, non-personified object. You're thinking of usages like the poor are always with us Jul 29, 2013 at 3:32
  • I've noticed recently that there is a peculiarity of these "the plus adjective" phrases: they are not comfortable with a possessive. We would not say "The poor's homes" but something like "The homes of poor people".
    – Bev Rowe
    Mar 7, 2016 at 11:42

4 Answers 4


The antecedent is people at the school, although it's plural and Harry is singular, so the deleted portion we must recover is person at the school:

From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated person at the school.

  • Is there any reason for not using "most popular and admired person at the school"?
    – apaderno
    Jul 29, 2013 at 12:36
  • 1
    Yes; Harry wasn't necessarily the most popular and admired person at the school. He was only one of a group of people who were both popular and admired, and he couldn't claim to be the single person at the top of both of those heaps.
    – Hellion
    Jul 29, 2013 at 14:20

Quick note: It's certainly not necessarily a group OF PEOPLE. It could be a group of anything. "There are two kinds of cars: the fast and the slow." "Some animals are the hunters, other the hunted." Etc.

But more generally, you have to be careful about when the-plus-adjective is being used as a noun phrase, and when it is being used as a conventional adjective with an implied noun.

Consider: "Which dress do you want to wear, the blue or the red?" "The blue" and "the red" here are not being used as nouns to describe groups. Rather they are just shorthand for saying "the blue dress or the red dress". We omit the noun because the intended meaning is obvious.

If you said something like, "I feel sorry for the hated in our school", then "the hated" is being used as a noun. There is no noun for it to modify. But if you say, "Of all the students in our school, Harry was the most loved but now he is the most hated," "loved" and "hated" are both being used as ordinary adjectives modifying "students".


The main reason for your confusion has been missed by the two previous answers.

From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated.

You are thinking of this as "the + adjective" when in actual fact it is "the + superlative adjective". It means Harry is the single person who is more hated than anyone else.

You are correct that "the + adjective" refers to a group of people. That's because in that case ("the poor", "the jealous", etc.) the 'adjective' is functioning as a noun.

However, when you use "the" with a superlative, it is functioning as an adjective and the noun is implied.

  • the weirdest (person)
  • the easiest (task)
  • the most evil (villains)


The implied noun will come from the rest of the sentence. In your case, as @snailplane pointed out, it's person at the school.

One more example to contrast the two forms.

  • The bullied often go on to become bullies themselves.

  • Although many people were disliked at Rochdale Comprehensive, Bob was undoubtedly the most bullied.

  • @oerkelens I don't see how I imply that at all, but I'm happy to edit if you are willing to better explain how it comes across that way. Sep 2, 2014 at 12:25
  • @oerkelens Note also that the OP is talking about when the adjective is being used alone and not followed by a noun. This doesn't stop it being plural, of course, since you can still say, for example, "Harry and Ben were the most popular". Sep 2, 2014 at 12:27
  • You literally state ""the + superlative adjective". It means he is the single person who is more hated than anyone else." That flatly contradicts the possibility of "in that group of people, Alice and Bob were the most hated." You answer focuses on stating that the + superlative = singular. And the + adjective can refer to a group. That is simply not true. The + superlative can very well refer to a group, exactly in the same way as the + adjective: we are good! or we are the best! or we are the champions!. All are plural.
    – oerkelens
    Sep 2, 2014 at 12:46
  • @oerkelens Ah, I'll clarify that "it" means the example sentence. I'm talking about "Harry was the most hated" there. I'm definitely not saying that "the + superlative = singular; the + adjective = group". I was trying to address the OP's confusion, which seemed to me to be that they didn't understand how "the most hated" could be singular, as they were mixing that use with the use of adjectives as nouns (like "the rich") which refer to a group. Sep 2, 2014 at 14:46
  • I still think that your choice of examples imply that the weirdest can only be singular. I would include plurals next to the singulars to make that clear. (person/people), (task(s)), (villain(s)). I forgot to click the -1 by the way, but I don't see much reason to do it anyway any more :P
    – oerkelens
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:52

The is the superlative form of adjective. the pattern then is THE+MOST+SUPERLATIVE form of ADJECTIVE(for 2/more syllables, but not all) Ex.The most handsome The longest( for 1 or in some cases 2-syllable adjectives. Regardless of the number of syllables if the form of adjective is superlative,there is always THE.

THE+adjective on the other hand is a noun phrase which refesr to a group. For example, THE OLD retired to bed early while THE YOUNG partied all night., THE+ ADJ noun phrases there refer to a group of old people and a group of young people.

  • "The is the superlative form of adjective..." - This needs rephrasing/restructuring. "THE + MOST + ADJECTIVE" (NOT SUPERLATIVE). "Most" is used to indicate a 'superlative' when joined with an adjective (i.e. most beautiful; most intelligent; most powerful). Kindly review and edit your answer.
    – shin
    Dec 12, 2016 at 11:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .