Using a superlative adjective as a noun


"Our new camera lens is so sensitive that even the slightest of details will be captured on film"?

Is the above bold phrase correct? Can I use a superlative adjective as a noun? Or I have to rewrite "the slightest ones of details". Thank you


Posted 2017-12-26T13:37:36.557

Reputation: 35

Your first example is fine and does not need rewriting (see my answer for a fuller explanation). In any case, you cannot rewrite it as you suggest. "Ones" is a pro-form that normally has an antecedent, but there is no antecedent present here, so it becomes ungrammatical. – BillJ – 2017-12-26T16:05:36.367



The first sentence is correct. This is an exception to a general rule.

In some languages, adjectives can act as nouns very freely. That is not true in English. In general in English, a noun must be associated with an adjective although "one" or "ones" can replace a noun understood by context.

In the case of a superlative, however, it is acceptable to emphasize the superlative by following it with "of" or "of the" and then the relevant noun. Technically I suppose that should be characterized as turning an adjective into a noun, but notice that the relevant noun is still required. The superlative does not stand in the splendid isolation permitted to a true noun.

EDIT: Your proposed alternative is not idiomatic. I cannot give you a rule for that, but I suspect it has to do with the construction being a way to emphasize the superlative, an emphasis that is negated by the plural "ones." You could idiomatically say "the slightest one of the details." Indeed, characterizing "the slightest of details" as an ellipsis of "the slightest one of the details" may possibly be consistent with the history of the construction.

Jeff Morrow

Posted 2017-12-26T13:37:36.557

Reputation: 19 401


Our new camera lens is so sensitive that even [the slightest of details] will be captured on film.

"Slightest" is not a noun here – it's an adjective.

This is called a 'fused modifier-head' construction, one where the head word is combined or 'fused' with a dependent element. That is, the single word "slightest" is at the same time modifier and also the head in the bracketed noun phrase.

More specifically, it’s a partitive construction, where the noun phrase "the slightest of details" is partitive in the sense that it denotes a subset of some set consisting of "details". We understand it to mean "the slightest details from some set of details will be captured on film".


Posted 2017-12-26T13:37:36.557

Reputation: 9 994