The Semantics of Comparatives and Other Degree Constructions

Abstract

(1) is an example of an adjectival comparative. In it, the adjective important is flanked by more and a comparative clause headed by than. This article is a survey of recent ideas about the interpretation of comparatives, including (i) the underlying semantics based on the idea of a threshold; (ii) the interpretation of comparative clauses that include quantifiers (brighter than on many other days); (iii) remarks on differentials such as much in (1) above: what they do in the comparative and what they do elsewhere in the language; (iv) the relationship between comparatives and other Degree constructions (e.g. as important, too impor- tant); and (v) the types of phrases in which comparatives are found (adjective: tighter versus noun: more water). Given the nature and purpose of this essay, I have tried not to presuppose background in formal semantics and I have departed from standard practice in journal articles by, as much as possible, not interrupting the flow with footnotes and references. There are two appendices. The first provides more analytical detail and there I do rely on formal techniques of natural language semantics. The second covers the sources for the ideas surveyed here.

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