Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 1101–1137 | Cite as

Similatives and the argument structure of verbs

  • Jessica Rett


I begin with the observation in Haspelmath and Buchholz (1998) that languages tend to use the same morpheme to mark the standard of comparison across equation constructions. In English, it is the morpheme as, in similatives like John danced as Sue (did) and equatives like John is as tall as Sue (is). The first goal of this paper is to provide an analysis of as that accounts for its distribution across these constructions. The second goal of this paper is to provide an account of Haspelmath and Buccholz’s second observation, which is that while languages can form equatives with parameter markers (PMs; the first as in John is as tall as Sue (is)), languages generally do not form similatives with parameter markers. I suggest that equation constructions are a test for lexicalized argumenthood, i.e. that the equation of a non-lexicalized argument prohibits the presence of a PM, and, for English, vice-versa. This leads to the conclusion that, contrary to recent claims (Piñón 2008; Bochnak 2013), verbs, unlike adjectives, generally do not lexicalize degree arguments.


Equatives Similatives Comparatives Manners Gradable adjectives Lexical semantics Degree semantics Verb scales Relative clauses 



Thanks to audiences at California Universities Semantics and Pragmatics (CUSP) 4 at USC and the Workshop on Aspect and Argument Structure of Adjectives and Participles (WAASAP) at the University of Greenwich. I am grateful to Natasha Abner for her help in data research, Adrian Brasoveanu, Sam Cumming, Louise McNally, Craig Sailor and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, and to Flavia Adani, Isabelle Charnavel, Thomas Graf, Hilda Koopman, Hadas Kotek, Sven Lauer, Denis Paperno, Elena Staraki and Floris Van Vugt for their participation in a survey.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCLA LinguisticsLos AngelesUSA

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