Hello everyone:

Can I use 'homeless' as a nominalized adjective in the following sentences?

a. I spotted three homeless in this area this morning.

b. Three homeless were arrested for trespassing on private property. 


Original Post


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

a': I spotted three homeless men in this area this morning.
b': Three homeless people were arrested for trespassing on private property.

However, "homeless" can often be nominalized when preceded by the definite article.

c: She's been working as an advocate for the homeless for thirty years.
d: Because of their sheer numbers, the homeless have become a force to be reckoned with in our local politics.


Last edited by Doc V

Hi, there, DOC V:

Here's what I found:

Several homeless in our local Dallas area need our help. Let's show them love by letting them know they are not forgotten. Care Packages contain needed necessities, snacks and a personal card.

Richardson Process Team

Several homeless

SOURCE: Care Packages for Dallas Homeless | Fundly

Here’s an example I found:

“Just two days before the Count, a deadly shooting of several homeless in Seattle’s I-5 Greenbelt, an area with the ominous pseudonym “The Jungle,” confirmed just how dangerous it can be to live outside.

SOURCE: Homeless in Seattle

"Just two days before the Count





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.


Thank you for your detailed answer, DocV. I totally agree with you. I think those sentences that I found on the Internet makes it evident that you can find horrible grammatical mistakes even at the native-speaker level.

grammarcrazed posted:

I think those sentences that I found on the Internet makes it evident that you can find horrible grammatical mistakes even at the native-speaker level.

Otto Jespersen noted in the early nineteen-hundreds that the construction was once used but is now "generally avoided":

"Sometimes we have a numeral or an indefinite adjective of number before the adjective: Sh H 5 IV. 1.315 Fiue hunared poore I haue in yeerely pay ¦ Bacon A 4.30 you have many sick amongst you ¦ Caine C 21 we have no poor in my parish.—This, however, is now generally avoided, and one says three kind people, many healthy people, etc."
-- Otto Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, Vol. 2, Section 11.45. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard,  1913.

Jespersen also notes:

"The use of these adjectives after numerals and similar adjectives is not quite natural nowadays : Fox 1.42 there are 200 English in her king's service ¦ ib 1.123 an order to take up all the thirty or forty English then in Rome ¦ Roosevelt A 295 six thousand British ¦ Farquhar B 326 some English that I know, are not averse ¦ Gibbon M 216 with several English ¦ Ward E 62 a good many other English ¦ NP '05 other representative British and Americans."
-- Otto Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, Vol. 2, Section 11.54. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard,  1913.

Poutsma says:

"The use of dead after the indefinite article, and as a plural without any preceding modifier, seems to be rare. Except for military reports, this may also be said of the use of dead after a number-indicating word. . . . In the heap on the left are forty-nine dead and dying."
-- Hendrik Poutsma, A Grammar of Late Modern English, Part II, Vol. 1, p. 404. Groningen: P. Noordhoff, 1914.

It's interesting that he mentions the military. I believe that even today one can, in a military context, speak of, say, thirty wounded instead of thirty wounded men or thirty wounded soldiers.

Then we have the King James Bible, which contains some of the most beautiful English ever written. I am confident that, given enough time, I could find an instance of a number used before a nominalized adjective. I did find these:

. . . Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. (Matthew 9:2)

Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: . . . (Matthew 11:11)

. .  and behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:41)

Lastly, I'd like to note that, in addition to the definite article, possessive determiners work well with nominalized adjectives. The poem on the Statue of Liberty ("The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus) reminds us of this:

[. . .] “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

- Emma Lazarus

statue of liberty


Images (1)
Last edited by David, Moderator

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.