Reply to "{homeless} as a nominalized adjective"


Sorry it's taken me so long to respond.  Thank you for sending the links to these articles, both of which use the phrase "several homeless".  I find this slightly less objectionable than "three homeless".  However, I should have made it clear that I find these expressions awkward sounding, but would not actually call them grammatically incorrect.

The first article, "Care Packages for the Dallas Homeless", is well-intended but rather carelessly written.  It would have benefitted greatly from some copy editing.  This is a shame, as such poor writing as this can distract readers from a truly worthy cause.

Interestingly, I don't object to the statement "[t]here are over 3,000 homeless in Dallas".  It seems that nominalization of a quantity of homeless becomes more acceptable the higher and less precise the number is.  For example, I would never call "a homeless" acceptable.  "Three homeless" is probably not grammatically incorrect, but it grates on me.  I don't particularly like "several homeless", and would never write it, but I wouldn't correct someone for saying it.  "Thousands of homeless" sounds fine.

Unfortunately, I can't cite any rules to support these opinions.  I'm just going by what sounds natural to me.  I hope that David or Gustavo can add something more definitive to this.

In the other article, "Wrestling with Seattle's Homelessness", I attribute the nominalization of "several homeless" to journalistic tradition, which places a premium on conciseness.  This tradition has its roots in the days of manual typesetting, when finding a way to express something in nine characters instead of ten literally caused a ten percent savings in labor costs.  (This is why newspaper writers tend not to use the Oxford comma.)  The only thing I find serious fault with in this article is the title.  It indicates that the city itself lacks a home, not that some of its residents do.

So, I need to back off considerably from my earlier statement:

When used with a number, "homeless" needs to have a noun to modify.

But something must have struck you as wrong with the construct, or you wouldn't have asked the question.