The Laws of Business: part 5, vocabulary

The main adjectives I’d like to look at here are: possible, impossible, expected, unexpected.

These are all used here as nouns – Technically we call them nominalised adjectives. You can see in the laws that the way to form a nominalised adjective of this type is:

the + adjective (without any changes)

It’s that simple! So we have ‘the possible’, meaning ‘things which are possible’, and ‘the unexpected’, meaning ‘things which are unexpected’.

You might be thinking of other ways to make adjectives into nouns – for example ‘possibility’, or ‘expectation’. There are a lot of nouns like this in English, and they relate to the adjectives in different ways. For instance, neighbour -> neighbourhood, angry -> anger, prepared -> preparation, preparedness.

What we’re looking at in this lesson is a special situation. We can use the + adjective when we are talking in general about all things or people that the adjective describes. So:

the possible = things which are possible
the unexpected = things which are unexpected
the rich = people who are rich
the elderly = people who are elderly
the English = people who are English

You can’t use all adjectives in this way, only some abstract adjectives. Also, we use them to talk about groups of similar things or people. So it’s not normal to say ‘the green’, because there’s not really a link between all of the green things in the world.

Note also that describing people in this way can sound like you’re making stereotypes, so be careful using these ones! Instead of saying ‘the English eat a lot of potatoes’, try adding words to make the sentence softer – ‘the English tend to eat more potatoes than other nationalities’ is more accurate. Finally, not all adjectives of nationality work in the same way – we can say ‘the French’, ‘the Chinese’, but others are given a plural -s, such as ‘the Americans’, ‘the Germans’, and ‘the Czechs’.

  • Can you think of other adjectives that you can use as nouns in this way? Can you turn them into meaningful sentences?

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