Superlative sentences with modal modifiers like possible give rise to the so-called 'modal superlative reading' (Larson 2000, Schwarz 2005). The present paper uses this reading to investigate an open issue in degree constructions: whereas two different lexical entries have been argued to exist for the comparative morpheme -er (3-place and 2-place), it is not clear whether two entries are needed for the superlative morpheme -est. The paper argues that, with 3-place –est, otherwise unmotivated syntactic material would to have to be postulated and that, even with this material, not all modal superlative examples would be assigned correct truth conditions. In contrast, 2-place -est can generate the modal superlative reading in all the cases, as shown in Romero (to appear, under review). Modal superlative sentences, thus, provide evidence that 2-place –est is needed in the grammar.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Beck, S. & Rullmann, H. 1996. ‘Degree Questions, Maximal Informativeness, and Exhaustivity’. In P. Dekker & M. Stokhof (eds.) ‘Proceedings of the Tenth Amsterdam Colloquium’, 73–92. Institute for Logic, Language and Computation, University of Amsterdam.

Bhatt, R. & Takahashi, S. 2008. ‘When to reduce and when not to: crosslinguistic variation in phrasal comparatives.’ Paper presented at GLOW XXXI.

Büring, D. 2007. ‘Comparative Sandwichology’. In R. Colavin, K. Cooke, K. Davidson, S. Fukuda & A. Del Guidice (eds.) ‘Proceedings of WECOL 2007’, 17–28. University of California, San Diego.

Corver, N. 1997. ‘Much-support as last resort’. Linguistic Inquiry 21: 119–164.

Fiengo, R. & May, R. 1994. Indices and Identity. MIT Press.

Grosu, A. & Landman, F. 1998. ‘Strange Relatives of the Third Kind’. Natural Language Semantics 6: 125–170.

Hackl, M. 2000. Comparative Quantifiers. Ph.D. thesis, MIT.

Hackl, M. 2009. ‘On the Grammar and Processing of Proportional Quantifiers: Most versus More Than Half’. Natural Language Semantics 17: 63–98.

Heim, I. 1985. ‘Notes on comparatives and related matters’. U. Texas at Austin lecture notes.

Heim, I. 1987. ‘Where does the definiteness restriction apply? Evidence from the definiteness of variables’. In E. Reuland & A. ter Meulen (eds.) ‘The Linguistic Representation of (In)definiteness’, 21–42. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Heim, I. 1999. ‘Notes on Superlatives’. MIT lecture notes.

Heim, I. 2000. ‘Degree Operators and Scope’. In B. Jackson & T. Matthews (eds.) ‘Proceedings of SALT X’, 40–64. Cornell NY: CLC Publications.

Heim, I. 2006. ‘Little’. In Proceedings of SALT XVI, ed. M. Gibson and J. Howell. Cornell, NY: CLC Publications.

Heim, I. & Kratzer, A. 1998. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Malden, Mass., Oxford: Kluwer.

Jacobs, J. 1983. Fokus und Skalen. Zur Syntax und Semantik der Gradpartikel im Deutschen. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Kennedy, C. 2001. ‘Polar Opposition and the Ontology of ‘Degrees”. Linguistics and Philosophy 24: 33–70.

Krifka, M. 1998. ‘Additive Particles under Stress’. In D. Strolovitsch & D. Lawson (eds.) ‘Proceedings of SALT VIII’, 111–128. Cornell NY: CLC Publications.

Krifka, M. 2006. ‘Association with Focus Phrases’. In V. Molnar & S. Winkler (eds.) ‘The Architecture of Focus’, 105–136. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Larson, R. 2000. ‘ACD in AP?’ Paper presented at WCCFL 19.

Pancheva, R. 2005. ‘Modal Superlatives’. In E. Georgala & J. Howell (eds.) ‘Proceedings of SALT XV’, 187–204. Cornell, NY: CLC Publications.

Pancheva, R. 2006. ‘Phrasal and Clausal Comparatives in Slavic’. In J. Lavine, S. Franks,

M. Tasseva-Kurktchieva & H. Filip (eds.) ‘Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics 14: The Princeton Meeting’, 236–257. Princeton University.

Romero, M. 2011. ‘Modal Superlatives: A Compositional Analysis’. Ms. University of Konstanz (submitted to a journal).

Romero, M. to appear. ‘Decomposing Modal Superlatives’. In Proceedings of NELS 41. Amherst, Mass.: GLSA.

Rooth, M. 1985. Association with Focus. Ph.D. thesis, UMass Amherst.

Rullmann, H. 1995. Maximality in the Semantics of Wh-Constructions. Ph.D. thesis, UMass Amherst.

Schwarzschild, R. & Wilkinson, K. 2002. ‘Quantifiers in Comparatives: A Semantics of Degree based on Intervals’. Natural Language Semantics 10: 1–41.

Seuren, P. A. M. 1973. ‘The Comparative’. In Generative Grammar in Europe, ed. F. Kiefer and N. Ruwet. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Sharvit, Y. & Stateva, P. 2002. ‘Superlative Expressions, Context, and Focus’. Linguistics and Philosophy 25: 453–505.

Szabolcsi, A. 1986. ‘Comparative Superlatives’. In N. Fukui, T. R. Rapoport & E. Sagey (eds.) ‘Papers in Theoretical Linguistics’, 245–266. MITWPL 8. Cambridge.

von Stechow, A. 1984. ‘Comparing semantic theories of comparison’. Journal of Semantics 3: 1–77.

von Stechow, A. 1990. ‘Focusing and backgrounding operators’. In W. Abraham (ed.) ‘Discourse particles’, 37–84. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

von Stechow, A. to appear. ‘Tenses in Compositional Semantics’. To be published in ed. W. Klein. The Expression Time in Language.