a girl’s soft and dimpled roundness


Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
But it was in her hands with their reddened nails that she most clearly betrayed her age; they had none of a girl’s soft and dimpled roundness; [...]
(W.S. Maugham; The Promise)

Can 'soft' be a noun here?

the quality or state of being soft : softness
Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language
  • SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you, Rover_KE, natkretep and ewie.

    But why exactly can't it be a noun?
    The dictionary tells us it can function as a noun, and, I suppose, if it is acceptable to say "none of a girl's softness and dimpled roundness." it should be possible to simply substitute 'soft' for 'softness' here.



    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Part of the answer is that I hardly ever (if at all) hear soft used as a noun. And secondly, we generally like parallel structures. 'Softness and dimpled roundness' has coordinated two bits that don't parallel each other. If you had 'gentle softness and dimpled roundness', it would sound so much pleasanter!


    Senior Member
    English UK
    The dictionary tells us it can function as a noun.
    Did Webster's dictionary quote any examples, Suprun?

    I can't think of any situation in which I'd use "soft" as a noun:(.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you, natkretep.

    No, Loob, Webster's dictionary didn't.

    In fact, it is only OED out of those dictionaries at my disposal that provides a few examples. They are all pretty dated, I'm afraid...
    1871 R. Ellis Catullus lxviii. 120 Not to a grand ~ sire old‥, so lovely the grandson One dear daughter alone rears i' the soft of his years.
    ...and mildly incomprehensible...

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    ....and mildly incomprehensible...
    especially out of any context. Your English is so good you are even mastering the art of understatement. :)

    I suppose this is an 140-year old translation from the Latin. When I read translations these days, I read modern ones, I mean in standard modern English. If it's poetry I'd choose a modern poet, if the work was well reviewed by suitably qualified reviewers, both as a translation and as a work in its own right. I have the strong impression that these high Victorian ( middle - late 19th century) translators and authors felt compelled to use ancient or pseudo- ancient forms when they were writing about long -distant times or translating the ancient classics. Certain historical novels, especially historical romances, still employ what the author fondly imagines to have been the normal spoken English of the time.

    I have no idea if 'soft' was used as a noun in 1871 in the spoken English of the time, whatever that was, or if 'grand -sire' was still generally used instead of 'grand-father' or 'forebear', outisde of regional (non- educated London) dialects; still less do I know about the use of 'rear' at that time. These days, if somebody 'rears' into one's life it is most definitely not a good thing. Maybe R Ellis was over- influenced by the Latin: perhaps there is a Latin noun meaning the feebleness and weakness of old age, as well as softness.

    The only thing this use of 'soft' brings to mind is the expression 'soft in the head' which is an adjectival use.



    Senior Member
    English - England
    "I would hang and flog them all but the soft would given them social workers and drugs of their choice! Vote for Paul Q!" (Liberals, etc.)

    From The Concise Oxford Dictionary 1911: Soft (n.) a silly or weak person.

    However, the meaning does not fit in Suprun's example.


    Senior Member
    English - American
    Look at it this way: "none of a girl’s (soft and dimpled) roundness" meaning a soft roundness and a dimpled roundness.

    As for using soft as a noun, I can only think of it being a sort of phrase where the noun is elided leaving only the adjective to stand as the noun: (as in the Catullus citation) "i[n] the soft part of his years". Or in a question like: "Do you want the hard or the soft?" Clearly, both these words are being used as nouns, yet are adjectives, with some previously understood noun having been left out. I'm sure there is a name for such a form, but we will have to wait for a proper grammarian to tell us what it is.
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