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Hello, HPUJ86

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Welcome again, and have a lot of fun, --wohlgemuth 16:51, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

Typology of comparative constructions

1. Comparison

An adjective expresses a property of a noun. Grading the adjective changes the degree in which it

modifies the noun. This way objects can be compared accord-ing to their qualities. In grammar this

process is known as Comparison. One can distinguish between to types of comparison:

a. Comparison of equality: compared objects have the same position on a predicative scale

Example: “Mary is as popular as Mike.”

b. Comparison of inequality: compared objects have different positions on a predicative scale

Example: “Mary is more popular than Jamie.”

“A graded adjective is one that is sometimes modified in terms of more and less, in order to indicate the degree to which a quality is present.” (Francis 1998: 348)

1.1 Gradability

Not every adjective is gradable. Non-gradable adjectives such as “dead” or “alive” cannot be put in a comparative or superlative form; one cannot be “deader” or “aliver”. If a non-gradable adjective is graded anyway it is mostly for artistic reasons. There is no specific grammatical rule for an adjective being gradable or non-gradable. Gradability or non-gradability derives mostly from the words semantic meaning.

1.2 Inflectional vs. analytical Grading

“some graded adjectives are […] found with a grading adverb or in a compara-tive or superlative form” (Francis 1998: 348).

According to this statement gradable adjectives can be divided into two major groups:

a. inflectionally graded adjectives: usually by adding -er in the compara-tive form and -est to create the superlative form

Example: tall – “Mike is taller than Mary.” “Mike is the tallest boy in school.”

b. analytically graded adjectives: usually by using the preceding adverb more to show comparative form and most for superlative form

Example: intelligent – “Mary is more intelligent than Mike.” “Mary is the most intelligent girl in school.”

1.2.1 Criteria:

Tabelle einfügen??

2. Comparison: A typological view

In the languages of the world, there are several different methods to express com-parison. Yet, there are some universally used elements. Every comparative con-struction consists of two noun phrases (NP’s) and a predicate. While one noun phrase takes the role of the comparee (C-NP) – the object to be compared – the other noun phrase functions as an index for the comparison called standard noun phrase (S-NP).

C-NP + Predicate + S-NP

Example: “Mary is as popular as Mike.”

        “Mary is more popular than Jamie.”

In both examples Mary functions as the comparee meanwhile Mike and Jamie take the roll of the index. In the following chapter presents different forms of indicating the comparison inequality in the languages of the world. The particular types are illustrated by examples taken from Leon Stassens article: COMPARATIVE CONSTRUCTIONS pub-lished in HANDBOOK OF LINGUISTICS AND COMMUNICATION SCIENCE VOLUME 20,2.

2.1 Marked and unmarked predicates

However in most languages the predicate remains in unmarked form when used in comparative constructions, there are still languages that tend to add an affix to it. Prominent examples of languages using such affixes are German, English and Latin.



Er ist intelligenter als Robert.

3SG1 be 3SG1 intelligent-AFF than R.

“He is more intelligent than Robert.”

2.2 Fixed case vs. derived case

When differentiating the ways of encoding noun phrases in comparative construc-tions, there are two main types to be considered: the fixed case comparative and the derived case comparative. Both types can be broken down into further sub-categories. In the derived case comparative the S-NP takes the same case as the C-NP.


Latin (Indo-European, Italic)

Brutum ego non minus amo

B.-ACC 1SG.NOM not less love.1SG.PRES

quam Caesarem.

than C.-ACC

“I love Brutus no less than (I love) Caesar” (Stassen 2001: 994)

In a fixed case comparative construction the S-NP remains in its case no matter what case the C-NP is in. Although it might seem like a minor alteration on paper, it has an enormous impact on the meaning of the sentence.


Latin (Indo-European, Italic)

Brutum ego non minus amo

B.-ACC 1SG.NOM not less love.1SG.PRES

quam Caesar.

than C.-NOM

“I love Brutus no less than Caesar (loves Brutus)” (Stassen 2001: 994)

2.2.1 Subcategories of the fixed case comparative

The fixed case comparative can be differentiated into two subcategories: the di-rect-object comparative and the adverbial comparative. In contrast to the standard form of comparative constructions, the direct-object comparative features two predicates instead of one. While one predicate func-tions as the adjective in terms of which the two NP’s are compared, the second predicate, takes on the form of a verb meaning to exceed or to surpass.


Duala (Niger-Kordofanian, North-West Bantu)

Nin ndabo e kolo buka nine

this house it big exceed that

“This house is bigger than that” (Stassen 2001: 994)

With the adverbial comparative the S-NP is typically in a certain case-form, to take a locational or adverbial form. According to the specific nature of this func-tion, the adverbial comparative can be broken down into three further subcatego-ries: separative comparative, allative comparative or locational comparative.

In the separative comparative the S-NP is marked by a word meaning from or out of, thus making it the point of origin for a movement.


Mundari (Austro-Asiatic, Munda)

Sadom-ete hati mananga-i

Horse-from elephant big -3SG.PRES

“The elephant is bigger than the horse” (Stassen 2001: 994)

In allative comparative constructions on the other hand the S-NP is marked as the point of destination for a movement. In this forme the S-NP’s meaning is similar to over, beyond, to or towards.


Breton (Indo-European, Celtic)

Jazo bras-ox wid-on

He big -AFF for-me

“He is bigger than me” (Stassen 2001: 994)

The last subtype of the adverbial comparative, the locative comparative, does not feature a form of movement. Instead it marks the S-NP as a location of an object.



Enta ihengrin foull i

He tall.3SG.MASC upon me

“He is taller than me” (Stassen 2001: 994)

2.2.2 Subcategories of the derived case comparative

When taking a closer look at the derived case comparative one can find two major subtypes. The first type is called the conjoined comparative and the second one the non-conjoined comparative also called the particle comparative. Within the conjoined comparative the construction consists of two clauses, one of which contains the C-NP while the other contains the S-NP. Although both clauses are independent, they still show some kind of parallelism when it comes to structural features. This means that the function of the NP’s is similar in each clause. The next striking characteristic of the conjoined comparative lies in the featured predicates. Meanwhile other comparative constructions only have one predicate, this particular construction uses two. The predicates occur either as op-posites (heavy – light)


Kobon (Papuan)

U kub u pro

This big that small

“This is bigger than that” (Stassen 2001: 995)

or in a positive – negative relation (clever – not clever).


Menomini (Algonquian)

Tata’hkes-ew nenah teh kan

Strong -3SG1 I and not

“He is stronger than me” (Stassen 2001: 994)

In particle comparative constructions the case of the S-NP derives from the C-NP but it is also accompanied by a specific comparative accretion. This is best illustrated by an example:


Hungarian (Uralic)

Istvan magasa-bb mint Peter

I.-NOM tall -AFF than P.-NOM

“Istvan is taller than Peter” (Stassen 2001: 994)

3. A Special Case: Double marking of adjectives in English

Results of a term paper written in the field of corpus linguistics at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany indicate further phenomenon of comparative constructions in the English language. By searching one of the bigger corpora of English, the BNC, using the Programme ANTCONC examples double marked ad-jectives in their comparative and superlative form have been uncovered. That means the adjectives had been graded inflectionally and analytically at the same time. Both forms in comparison to the standard form are presented in the follow-ing examples:


Mary is more older than Mike.

M. be 3SG1 ANALYTICAL COMP old-AFF than M.

Standard: Mary is older than Mike.

M. be 3SG1 old-AFF than M.


This is the most loneliest day of my life!

This be 3SG1 the ANALYTICAL SUPERL lonely-AFF day of my life!

Standard: This is the loneliest day of my life!

This be 3SG1 the lonely-AFF day of my life!

It is important to keep in mind that the small number of cases of this phenomenon in the BNC only allows a descriptive and interpretative conclusion.

3.1 The double marked comparative

According to the used data there appears to be a set of rules in the double marked comparative. Double marking in the comparative only occurs with adjectives that can be graded inflectionally. It does not occur with adjectives that are normally graded analytically. Even though this particular phenomenon does turn up relatively seldom, the num-ber of occurrences is still great enough to consider the double marked comparative a legitimate part of the English language.

3.2 The double marked superlative

With only 13 occurrences in the entire BNC the double marked superlative is not frequent enough to be considered a legitimate part of English. All the occurrences of double marked superlative in the BNC differ from each other. There are irregular adjectives like good, as well as regular ones like cold. Also there are instances of adjectives having a monosyllabic or disyllabic word stem as well as cases with three or four syllables. The absence of recognizable patterns leads to the conclusion that the double marked superlative is probably just an artistic device.

3.3 Origin of double marked comparison

Even though there have been no studies concerning the historical development of the phenomenon of double marking, there are general thoughts of how it came to be. Meanwhile the double marked superlative probably derived from a creative ap-proach to language to put more emphasize on a certain expression, the double marked form of the comparative could be a sign for an ongoing development in English. According to Laurie Bauer (1994: 52) there is a trend in British English to grade more and more adjectives analytically. This could explain, why only inflectionally graded adjectives occur in the double marked comparative.


Bauer, Laurie (1994). Watching English change: an introduction to the study of linguistic change in standard Englishes in the twentieth century. London: Long-man.

Francis, Gill (1998). Collins COBUILD grammar patterns: Nouns and adjectives. Birmingham: HarperCollins Publ.

Haspelmath, Martin; Dryer, Matthew (2005). The World Atlas of Language Structures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stassen, Leon (1984). Comparison and Universal Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell.

Stassen, Leon (2001). Comparative constructions. In: Handbook of linguistics and communication science Volume 20,2. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Tucker, Gordon Howard (1998).The lexicogrammar of adjectives: a systemic functional approach to lexis. London: Cassell.

Your identity (encore)

Please remember to identify yourself. --wohlgemuth (talk) 13:47, 19 January 2013 (CET)