I came across this sentence in a game I was playing:

Wer ist der Wagemutige?

I take it to mean this:

Who is the daring one?

Given that wagemutig is an adjective, my question is this: is it possible to turn adjectives into nouns simply by adding an article? Is there a need to decline it? if so, how would gender be determined?

  • When you add an article, the article determines gender, so the question never arises. – Kilian Foth Oct 10 at 6:38
  • 1
    @KilianFoth: Have to disagree; of course in case of referring to persons it is easy: der Schöne and die Schöne. But das Schöne is required for abstracts, things and neuter substantives, so the question is valid. – guidot Oct 10 at 6:47
up vote 7 down vote accepted

That's called Substantivierung. An adjective is turned into a noun by adding an article (and of course capitalizing).
English has this as well: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"

The gender depends on the gender of the underlying thing:

  • der Schöne (male person)
  • die Schöne (female person)
  • das Schöne (beautiful things in general) Note: beauty is die Schönheit

Nouns formed this way from adjectives are declined like adjectives:

  • [dative masc.] dem Schönen
  • [without article] Schönes

Other parts of speech can be substanziviert as well, for example verbs: das Gehen, das Lesen

Further reading: Wikipedia, Studienkreis,

  • 1
    Note that of course, while in German, an adjective turned noun is capitalized (like any other noun), while in your English example, the nouns are capitalized because they are part of a movie title. – Philipp Oct 10 at 16:12
  • Also note that an adjective that was turned into a substantive, although capitalized, is declined as any other adjective. – RHa Oct 10 at 16:20

In addition to the above answer by @PiedPiper, there are phrases such as "something good" or "nothing good", wherein you also nominalise the adjective as follows:

  • Something good - etwas Gutes
  • Nothing particular - nichts Bestimmtes

And for any of these you use the neuter indefinite article adjective ending ("-es" ending) and capitalise the adjective. You can do this with any adjective you come across except for anderes. This is just never capitalised.

Although your question seems to have been answered exhaustively by others, let me add that there are limits to nominalizations when it comes to participles I and II

Example 1: überraschen

überraschen -> überraschend -> ein überraschendes Ergebnis, and also: Das Überraschende an der Sache ist ja, dass ...

Example 2: herumliegen

Imagine total chaos in a child's room. Alles liegt überall herum.

herumliegen -> herumliegend -> * das Herumliegende

No one would ever say: * Kind, räum' mal das Herumliegende auf!

This would burst all limits. Not because it would be grammatically unconceivable, but because it would be extremely unidiomatic. Instead, one would say:

Kind, räum' mal dein Zimmer auf! or Kind, räum' mal die Sachen auf! or Kind, mach' mal Ordnung hier!

Example 3: verletzen

verletzen -> verletzt -> der Verletzte [m.] / die Verletzte [f.], thus:

Die Verletzten [pl.] wurden in ein Krankenhaus gebracht.

Example 4: verblühen

verblühen -> [ist] verblüht -> das Verblühte, however, only in a recommendation like: Verblühtes abschneiden (Remove withered flowers, as Verblühte Blüten abschneiden would sound strange)

Example 5: streichen

streichen -> gestrichen -> (?) or (*): das Gestrichene

Next to a newly painted wall, you will not read * Das (frisch) Gestrichene nicht berühren / anfassen!, but: Vorsicht, frisch gestrichen!

Conclusion? Grammatisch mögliche Formen sind das eine, Idiomatik ist das andere. In case of doubt: idiomacy prevails.

Cheers!

  • The question is about adjectives. These examples are all verbs – PiedPiper Oct 13 at 23:09

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