, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 187–217 | Cite as

Aspect and modality in the interpretation of deverbal -er nominals in English

  • Rochelle Lieber
  • Marios Andreou


This article presents a corpus study of over 16,000 tokens of -er nominalizations on 62 verbal bases that were extracted from the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus. We show that an individual -er nominal can often be given a range of modal and aspectual readings and that a number of factors influence the availability of different readings for -er nominals, including verb type, syntactic context (verb tenses, adverbs), and encyclopedic information. On the basis of these data, we argue, contra Cohen (2016), that the core meaning of the affix -er (as in writer, printer, etc.) cannot be that of a dynamic modal. We show that neither Cohen’s (2016) analysis nor syntactic analyses such as that of Alexiadou and Schäfer (2010) can account for the range of readings we find. We conclude by sketching one possible analysis in terms of the Lexical Semantic Framework of Lieber (2004, 2016) that postulates underspecified lexical representations of the -er nominals and resolution of underspecification in context.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Heinrich Heine UniversityDüsseldorfGermany

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