Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 955–1001 | Cite as

Comparison classes and the relative/absolute distinction: a degree-based compositional account of the ser/estar alternation in Spanish

  • Silvia Gumiel-Molina
  • Norberto Moreno-Quibén
  • Isabel Pérez-Jiménez


The notion of comparison class has figured prominently in recent analyses of the gradability properties of adjectives. We assume that the comparison class is introduced by the degree morphology of the adjective and present a new proposal where comparison classes are crucial to explain the distribution of adjectives in Spanish copular sentences headed by the verbs ser ‘beSER’ and estar ‘beESTAR’. The copula estar ‘be estar ’ appears whenever a gradable adjective merges with a within-individual comparison class, a modifier expressing a property of stages. The copular verb ser ‘be ser ’ appears when a gradable adjective merges with a between-individuals comparison class, a modifier expressing a property of individuals. The distinction between relative and absolute adjectives can be reduced to the semantic properties of the modifier expressing the comparison class that is merged in the functional structure of the adjective.


Absolute Adjective Comparison class Copula Degree Estar Gradability Relative Ser 



We would like to thank Violeta Demonte, Olga Fernández Soriano, Manuel Leonetti, Louise McNally, Jesús Romero-Trillo and the audiences at the SEL 2012 meeting, the XX Incontro di Grammatica Generativa, the XX Colloquium on Generative Grammar, the WAASAP, the International workshopser and estar at the interfaces” and the members of the LyCC group, for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers and the editors of this special issue of NLLT, Elena Castroviejo and Berit Gehrke, whose comments have undoubtedly improved this article. The research underlying this work has been partly supported by a grant to the projects SPYCE II-(FFI2009-07456) and EventSynt-(FFI2009-07114) from the Spanish MICINN, and also by a grant to the project “La adquisición de los verbos copulativos ser y estar en niños de 3–6 años” (Ayudas concedidas a la Escuela de Magisterio en el marco del Convenio de Colaboración entre la Universidad de Alcalá e Ibercaja Obra Social y Cultural, 2011).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Silvia Gumiel-Molina
    • 1
  • Norberto Moreno-Quibén
    • 2
  • Isabel Pérez-Jiménez
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Universidad de AlcaláAlcalá de HenaresSpain
  2. 2.ILLA-CCHS-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasMadridSpain

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