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If you place “le/la/les” right before an adjective, does the resultant phrase mean a person or people of that particular nature?


le + puissant (Masculine Singular Adjective) = a powerful man?

la + puissante (Feminine Singular Adjective) = a powerful woman?

les + puissants (Masculine Plural Adjective) = the powerful? / powerful people?

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"le/la/les" are definite articles in French. So if you want to translate it, you must put that notion in your translation.

The plural form is often used to design a group of people, "les puissants" meaning the group of people who have the power. What kind of power exactly depends of the context. In the same way "les riches, les pauvres" refers to the rich people or poor people, "les sportifs" to people who practise any kind of sport, etc. In that case, the adjective takes the place and function of a noun and is used to qualify the people you're talking about.

The singular form is less common. It refers to a precise person, but you will need a context to identify precisely who it is. For example, in a company, if someone says "le puissant", it could refer to the CEO.

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    You can use it descrbing a person among other: "Le grand", "La rousse", "Le costaud", "La petite"... – Random Jan 13 '16 at 15:44
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Yes, you can do this and yes it means, in effect, the person with that quality. Similar to nicknaming someone "Ginger" or "Shorty".

The grammatical term to describe this in french is a nominalized adjective or, alternatively, substantive adjective. The latter seems to be less used presently. L'adjectif substantif can be defined as «un adjectif qui s'utilise comme un nom». Some examples are here.

One important thing to bear in mind if you are going to try this is to check in a dictionary whether there is already as substantive meaning for any noun which you are going to transform in this way. E.g. see the difference between public/publique.

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