The Syntax and Semantics of Multiple Degree Modification in English

Christopher Kennedy and Louise McNally

Focusing on the examples of multiple degree modification, this paper argues that the class of degree expressions in English is syntactically and semantically diverse, subdivided both according to the semantic effects of its members and according to the extent to which they permit, and participate in, multiple layers of modification. We argue that these two factors are linked, and result in (at least) a three-way distinction between 'true degree morphemes', which map gradable adjectives to properties of individuals and combine with their arguments in a Head-Specifier structure; 'intensifiers', which are syntactic and semantic modifiers of properties constructed out of gradable adjectives; and ;scale modifiers', which are also syntactic and semantic modifiers, but which combine with 'bare' gradable adjectives (relations between individuals and degrees) rather than properties formed out of gradable adjectives.