Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 1–53 | Cite as

No more shall we part: Quantifiers in English comparatives

  • Peter Alrenga
  • Christopher Kennedy


It is well known that the interpretation of quantificational expressions in the comparative clause poses a serious challenge for semantic analyses of the English comparative. In this paper, we develop a new analysis of the comparative clause designed to meet this challenge, in which a silent occurrence of the negative degree quantifier no (observed overtly in collocations like no more, no greater, etc.) interacts with other quantificational expressions to derive the observed range of interpretations. Although our analysis incorporates ideas from previous analyses (in particular, negation and maximality based analyses of the comparative clause), we show that it is able to account for a broader range of facts than other approaches, with a minimum of construction-specific stipulations. We demonstrate that the analysis can be embedded within a general syntactic and semantic architecture for the comparative, and although our analysis focuses on the English data, we give evidence of its potential for crosslinguistic application. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our approach for the analysis of “split-scope” phenomena in nominal quantification.


Comparatives Quantifiers Modals Negation Scope 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abels Klaus, Maria Luisa Martí. (2010) A unified approach to split scope. Natural Language Semantics 18: 435–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alrenga, Peter, Christopher Kennedy, and Jason Merchant. 2012. A new standard of comparison. In Proceedings of 30th West Coast Conference on Linguistics, ed. Nathan Arnett and Ryan Bennett, 32–42. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
  3. Aparicio Terrasa, Helena. 2013. Additive readings in Spanish amount comparatives. Poster presented at Sinn und Bedeutung 18, Sept. 2013, University of the Basque Country.Google Scholar
  4. Barker Chris. (2007) Parasitic scope. Linguistics and Philosophy 30: 407–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beck Sigrid. (2012) DegP scope revisited. Natural Language Semantics 20: 227–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beck Sigrid. (2010) Quantifiers in than-clauses. Semantics and Pragmatics 3: 1–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beck, Sigrid, Sveta Krasikova, Daniel Fleischer, Remus Gergel, Stefan Hofstetter, Christiane Savelsberg, John Vanderelst, and Elisabeth Villalta. 2009. Crosslinguistic variation in comparative constructions. Linguistic Variation Yearbook 9:1–66.Google Scholar
  8. Bhatt Rajesh., Roumyana Pancheva. (2004) Late merger of degree clauses. Linguistic Inquiry 35: 1–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bhatt Rajesh., Shoichi Takahashi. (2011) Reduced and unreduced phrasal comparatives. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 29: 581–620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brasoveanu Adrian. (2013) Modified numerals as post-suppositions. Journal of Semantics 30: 155–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bresnan Joan. (1973) Syntax of the comparative clause construction in English. Linguistic Inquiry 4: 275–343Google Scholar
  12. Büring, Daniel. 2007. More or less. In Papers from the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society Volume 1: The Main Session, ed. Malcolm Elliott et al. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistic Socitey.Google Scholar
  13. Chierchia, Gennaro. 2004. Scalar implicatures, polarity phenomena and the syntax/pragmatics interface. In Structures and beyond, ed. Adriana Belletti, 39–103. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Chomsky, Noam. 1977. On wh-movement. In Formal syntax, ed. Peter Culicover, Tom Wasow, and Adrian Akmajian, 71–132. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cormack, Anabel, and Neil Smith. 2002. Modals and negation in English. In Modality and its interaction with the verbal system, ed. Sjef Barbiers, Frits Beukema, and Wim van der Wurff, 133–163. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  16. Cresswell, M.J. 1976. The semantics of degree. In Montague grammar, ed. Barbara Partee, 261–292. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  17. Dalrymple, Mary, Makoto Kanazawa, Yookyung Kim, Sam Mchombo, and Stanley Peters. 1998. Reciprocal expressions and the concept of reciprocity. Linguistics and Philosophy 21:159–210.Google Scholar
  18. de Swart, Henriëtte. 2000. Scope ambiguities with negative quantifiers. In Reference and anaphoric relations, ed. Klaus von Heusinger and Urs Egli, 109–132. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  19. Diesing Molly. (1992) Indefinites. MIT Press, Cambridge MassGoogle Scholar
  20. Fox Danny., Martin Hackl. (2007) The universal density of measurement. Linguistics and Philosophy 29: 157–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Francez, Itamar. 2007. Existential propositions. Doctoral Dissertation, Stanford University.Google Scholar
  22. Gajewski, Jon. 2008. More on quantifiers in comparative clauses. In Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 18, ed. Tova Friedman and Satoshi Ito, 340–357. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.Google Scholar
  23. Gawron Jean-Mark. (1995) Comparatives, superlatives and resolution. Linguistics and Philosophy 18: 333–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Geurts, Bart. 1996. On no. Journal of Semantics 13:67–86.Google Scholar
  25. Giannakidou, Anastasia. 1998. Polarity sensitivity as (non)veridical dependency. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  26. Giannakidou Anastasia. (1999) Affective dependencies. Linguistics and Philosophy 22: 367–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Giannakidou, Anastasia. 2006. Only, emotive factive verbs, and the dual nature of polarity dependency. Language 82:575–603.Google Scholar
  28. Giannakidou, Anastasia, and Suwon Yoon. 2010. No NPI licensing in comparatives. In Proceedings of the 46th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistic Society.Google Scholar
  29. Grano Thomas., Christopher Kennedy. (2012) Mandarin transitive comparatives and the grammar of measurement. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 21: 219–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hackl, Martin. 2000. Comparative quantifiers. Doctoral Dissertation, MIT.Google Scholar
  31. Hankamer, Jorge. 1973. Why there are two ‘than’s in English. In Proceedings of the 9th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, ed. Claudia Corum, T. Cedric Smith-Stark, and Ann Weiser, 179–191. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistic Society.Google Scholar
  32. Heim, Irene. 1985. Notes on comparatives and related matters. Ms., University of Texas, Austin, TX.Google Scholar
  33. Heim, Irene. 2000. Degree operators and scope. In Semantics and Linguistic Theory 10, ed. Brendan Jackson and Tanya Matthews, 40–64. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.Google Scholar
  34. Heim, Irene. 2001. Degree operators and scope. In Audiatur vox sapientae, ed. Caroline Féry and Wolfgang Sternefeld, 214–239. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.Google Scholar
  35. Heim, Irene. 2006a. “Little”. In Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 16, ed. Masayuki Gibson and Jonathan Howell, 17–34. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Heim, Irene. 2006b. Notes on comparative clauses as generalized quantifiers. Ms. MIT.Google Scholar
  37. Horn Laurence. (1989) A natural history of negation. IL: University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  38. Iatridou, Sabine, and Ivy Sichel. 2011. Negative DPs, A-movement, and scope diminishment. Linguistic Inquiry 42:595–629.Google Scholar
  39. Ionin Tania., Ora Matushansky. (2006) The composition of complex cardinals. Journal of Semantics 23: 315–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Izvorski, Roumyana. 1995. A solution to the subcomparative paradox. In The Proceedings of WCCFL 14, ed. J. Camacho, L. Chouieri, and M. Watanabe, 203–219. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  41. Jacobs Joachim. (1980) Lexical decomposition in Montague Grammar. Theoretical Linguistics 7: 121–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jacobson, Pauline. 1995. On the quantification force of english free relatives. In Quantification in natural languages, ed. Emmon Bach, et al., 451–486. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  43. Joly, André. 1967. Negation and the comparative particle in English. Québec: Pressses de L’Université Laval.Google Scholar
  44. Kadmon, Nirit, and Fred Landman. 1993. Any. Linguistics and Philosophy 16:353–422.Google Scholar
  45. Kennedy, Christopher. 1999. Projecting the adjective: The syntax and semantics of gradability and comparison. New York: Garland (1997 UCSC PhD dissertation).Google Scholar
  46. Kennedy, Christopher. 2001. Polar opposition and the ontology of ‘degrees’. Linguistics and Philosophy 24:33–70.Google Scholar
  47. Kennedy, Christopher. 2007a. Modes of comparison. In Papers from the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society Volume 1: The Main Session, ed. Malcolm Elliott, et al., 139–163. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.Google Scholar
  48. Kennedy, Christopher. 2007b. Vagueness and grammar: The semantics of relative and absolute gradable predicates. Linguistics and Philosophy 30:1–45.Google Scholar
  49. Kennedy, Christopher. 2013. A scalar semantics for scalar readings of number words. In From grammar to meaning: The spontaneous logicality of language, ed. Ivano Caponigro and Carlo Cecchetto, 172–200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Kennedy, Christopher, and Beth Levin. 2008. Measure of change: The adjectival core of degree achievements. In Adjectives and adverbs: Syntax, semantics and discourse, ed. Louise McNally and Christopher Kennedy, 156–182. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Kennedy Christopher., Jason Merchant. (2000) Attributive comparative deletion. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 18: 89–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kennedy, Christopher, and Jason Stanley. 2009. On average. Mind 118.Google Scholar
  53. Klein, Ewan. 1980. A semantics for positive and comparative adjectives. Linguistics and Philosophy 4:1–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Krasikova, Sveta. 2008. Quantifiers in comparatives. In Proceedings of SuB12, ed. Atle Grønn, 337–352. Oslo: ILOS.Google Scholar
  55. Kratzer, Angelika. 1995. Scope or pseudoscope? Are there wide-scope indefinites? Manuscript, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.Google Scholar
  56. Krifka, Manfred. 1989. Nominal reference, temporal constitution and quantification in event semantics. In Semantics and contextual expression, ed. Renate Bartsch, Johann van Benthem, and Peter van Emde Boas, 75–115. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  57. Krifka Manfred., (1995) The semantics and pragmatics of polarity items. Linguistic Analysis 25: 209–257Google Scholar
  58. Ladusaw, Bill. 1979. Polarity sensitivity as inherent scope relation. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin.Google Scholar
  59. Landau, Idan. 2002. (Un)interpretable Neg in Comp. Linguistic Inquiry 33:465–492.Google Scholar
  60. Landman, Fred. (2004) Indefinites and the type of sets. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  61. Larson Richard K. (1988) Scope and comparatives. Linguistics and Philosophy 11: 1–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lassiter, Daniel. 2012. Quantificational and modal interveners in degree constructions. In Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 22. Ms., Stanford University.Google Scholar
  63. Lechner, Winfried. 2001. Reduced and phrasal comparatives. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 19:683–735. Unpublished ms., Universität Tübingen.Google Scholar
  64. Linebarger, Marcia. 1980. The grammar of negative polarity. Doctoral Dissertation, MIT. Distributed by MITWPL.Google Scholar
  65. Marques, Rui. 2003. Licensing and interpretation of N-words in comparative clauses. In Proceedings of Sinn and Bedeutung 7, ed. Matthias Weisgerber, 199–212. Universität Konstanz.Google Scholar
  66. Matushansky, Ora. 2011. No more no less: Existential comparatives revisited. Unpublished ms., University of Utrecht.Google Scholar
  67. McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 1973. Comparative constructions in English: A syntactic and semantic analysis. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Rochester.Google Scholar
  68. Meier, Cécile. 2002. Maximality and minimality in comparatives. In Proceedings of Sinn and Bedeutung 6, ed. Graham Katz, Sabine Reinhard, and Philip Reuter, 275–287. Osnabrück: Publications of the Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück.Google Scholar
  69. Merchant, Jason. 2001. The syntax of silence: Sluicing, islands, and the theory of ellipsis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Merchant Jason. (2009) Phrasal and clausal comparatives in Greek and the abstractness of syntax. Journal of Greek Linguistics 9: 134–164Google Scholar
  71. Mittwoch Anita. (1974) Is there an underlying negative element in comparative clauses?. Linguistics 12: 39–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Murphy, M. Lynne. 1997. Why adjectives occor (or don’t) in measure phrases. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America, Chicago, IL, January 2–5, 1997.Google Scholar
  73. Musolino, Julien, Stephen Crain, and Rosalind Thornton. 2000. Navigating negative quantificational space. Linguistics 38:1–32.Google Scholar
  74. Napoli Donna Jo., Marina Nespor. (1976) Negatives in comparatives. Language 52: 811–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Nickel Bernhard. (2010) Generic comparisons. Journal of Semantics 27: 207–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Nouwen, Rick. 2008. Upper-bounded no more: The exhaustive interpretation of non-strict comparison. Natural Language Semantics 16:271–295.Google Scholar
  77. Nouwen Rick. (2010) Two kinds of modified numerals. Semantics and Pragmatics 3: 1–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Pancheva, Roumyana. 2006. Phrasal and clausal comparatives in Slavic. In Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics 14: The Princeton Meeting, ed. J. Lavine, et al., 236–257. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic Publications.Google Scholar
  79. Penka Doris. (2011) Negative indefinites. UK: Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  80. Penka Doris. (2012) Split scope of negative indefinites. Language and Linguistics Compass 6: 517–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Potts, Christopher. 2000. When even no’s Neg is splitsville. In Jorge Hankamer Webfest, ed. Sandra Chung, James McCloskey, and Nathan Sanders. Santa Cruz, CA: Linguistics Research Center.Google Scholar
  82. Price, Susan. 1990. Comparative constructions in Spanish and French syntax. New York: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  83. Rett, Jessica. 2008. Degree modification in natural language. Doctoral Dissertation, Rutgers University.Google Scholar
  84. Ross, John Robert. 1968. A proposed rule of tree-pruning. In Modern studies in English: Readings in transformational grammar, ed. David A. Reibel and Sanford A. Schane, 288–299. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  85. Rothstein, Susan. 2011. Counting, measuring and the semantics of classifiers. In The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 6.Google Scholar
  86. Rullmann, Hotze. 1995. Maximality in the semantics of wh-constructions. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.Google Scholar
  87. Sauerland, Uli. 1998. Plurals, derived predicates and reciprocals. In The interpretive tract, MITWPL 25, ed. Uli Sauerland and Orin Percus, 177–204. Cambridge, MA: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics.Google Scholar
  88. Schwarzschild Roger. (2005) Measure phrases as modifiers of adjectives. Recherches Linguistiques de Vincennes 35: 207–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Schwarzschild Roger. (2008) The semantics of comparatives and other degree constructions. Language and Linguistics Compass 2: 308–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Schwarzschild Roger., Karina Wilkinson. (2002) Quantifiers in comparatives: A semantics of degree based on intervals. Natural Language Semantics 10: 1–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Seuren, Pieter A.M. 1973. The comparative. In Generative grammar in Europe, ed. Ferenc Kiefer and Nicolas Ruwet, 528–564. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  92. Seuren, Pieter A.M. 1978. The structure and selection of positive and negative gradable adjectives. In Papers from the Parasession on the Lexicon, Chicago Linguistics Society, ed. Donka Farkas, W.M. Jacobsen, and K.W. Todrys, 336–346. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.Google Scholar
  93. Snyder, William, Kenneth Wexler, and Dolon Das. 1994. The syntactic representation of degree and quantity: Perspectives from Japanese and child English. In Proceedings of the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics 13, ed. Raul Aranovich et al., 581–596. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  94. Stassen Leon. (1985) Comparison and universal grammar. Basil Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  95. Svenonius, Peter, and Christopher Kennedy. 2006. Northern Norwegian degree questions and the syntax of measurement. In Phases of interpretation, ed. Mara Frascarelli, Studies in Generative Grammar 91, 133–161. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  96. Szabolcsi Anna., Frans Zwarts. (1993) Weak islands and an algebraic semantics for scope taking. Natural Language Semantics 1: 235–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Takahashi, Shoichi. 2006. More than two quantifiers*. Natural Language Semantics 14:57–101.Google Scholar
  98. van Rooij, Robert. 2008. Comparatives and quantifiers. In Empirical issues in formal syntax and semantics 7, ed. Olivier Bonami and Patricia Cabredo Hofherr, 423–444. Paris: CSSP.Google Scholar
  99. von Fintel, Kai, and Sabine Iatridou. 2007. Anatomy of a modal construction. Linguistic Inquiry 38:445–483.Google Scholar
  100. von Stechow, Arnim. 1984a. Comparing semantic theories of comparison. Journal of Semantics 3:1–77.Google Scholar
  101. von Stechow, Arnim. 1984b. My reply to Cresswell’s, Hellan’s, Hoeksema’s and Seuren’s comments. Journal of Semantics 3:183–199.Google Scholar
  102. Williams Edwin. (1977) Discourse and logical form. Linguistic Inquiry 8: 101–139Google Scholar
  103. Zeijlstra, Hedde. 2008. On the syntactic flexibility of formal features. In The limits of syntactic variation, ed. Theresa Biberauer, 143–173. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  104. Zeijlstra, Hedde. 2009. Dislocation effects, uninterpretable features, functional heads, and parametric variation: Consequenes of conflicting interface conditions. In Interphases: Phase-theoretic investigations of linguistic interfaces, ed. Kleanthes Grohmann, 82–113. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  105. Zeijlstra, Hedde, and Doris Penka. 2005. Negative indefinites in Dutch and German. Ms, Universität Tübingen.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Linguistics ProgramBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations