Predicate Adjectives

Linguistics 322

Intermediate Syntax

Predicate adjectives form the basic lexical information of a clause. Consider the following sentences:

(1)     John is happy.

(2)      Mary is tall.

Happy is the main lexical predicate here. It takes one argument: an experiencer--John. Tall takes one argument: a theme: Mary.

Some predicate adjectives take two arguments:

(3)     John is fond of chocolate.

(4)      Sally was pleased with her gift.

Fond takes an experiencer (John) and a theme (chocolate). Both of these arguments are required in the syntax:

(5)     *John is fond.

Pleased takes the same two arguments, but the theme is optional:

(6)      Sally was pleased.

Predicate adjectives in matrix clauses must be modified for tense (1)-(6):

(7)     *John be fond.

The argument structure for (1) is:


In the first pass to the lexicon HAPPY is designated an adjective (A):


Adjectives cannot function as hosts for tense in English and in most if not all Indo-European languages. Since there is no host for tense, Tense cannot lower. By Last Resort, a dummy (auxiliary) verb must be inserted to function as host for Tense.The morpheme {BE} is inserted and adjoined to the left of Tense:


The noun JOHN needs Case. It raises and is adjoined to TP. The features of the subject are copied to the first verb, the auxiliary verb. In the second pass to the lexicon, {BE}+[-Past, -Pers, -Pl] i spelled out as is.:


Stative adjectives are not marked for the aspectual progressive/non-progressive contrast:

(12)      *John is being tall.

(13)      *Mary is being fond of red roses.

(14)      *Kyle is being pleased (with himself).

However, if the adjective is one such that the subject may have control over the adjective (usually an emotion), the progressive may be used; the progressive denotes the control here:

(15)     Jason is stupid.

(16)     Jason is being stupid today.

(16) implies that Jason is not necessary stupid, but that he is acting stupid today. In (15) Jason is an experiencer, assuming that stupidity is something one can experiencer. In (16) Jason is an agent. He has control of the situation.

The tasks that confronts us here is to determine the operator that underlies the progressive form in (16). It cannot be [+Prog], since it underlies the progressive aspect, not behaviour implied by (16). Let us suppose that the operator and its binary feature is ACT[±Intentional]. The operator is immediately dominated by Act-Proposition:


In the first pass through the lexicon, [TENSE[-Past]] is spelled out as weak T. Although [ACT[+Int]] subcategorizes A, A cannot function as a host for ACT. There is no known host for ACT. It is marked as bound, as it needs a host, as we shall see below:


Note that neither T nor Ac can lower since there is no appropriate host. The noun containing JASON raises and is adjoined to TP for Case. Then agreement applies. In the second or last pass through the lexicon, {BE} is inserted and adjoined both to T and to Ac. {BE} plus [-Past, -Pers, -Pl] is spelled out as is. [+Int] is spelled out as '-ing', and {BE} as 'be-':


There is no voice contrast in predicate adjectives. If the function of the active voice is to raise the prominent argument to the external (subject) position, then the only argument is the prominent one, and it is raised. If there are two arguments, the experiencer tends to be the prominent one, those the theme may be in some adjectives:

(20)     Betty is fond of jewelry.

(21)     Jewelry is pleasing to Betty.

In both sentences Betty is the experiencer, and jewelry is the theme. There is no way that the theme may be raised to the external position in (13):

(22)     *Jewelry is fond by Betty.

(23)     *Jewelry is been fond by Betty.

Similarly, there is no way the experiencer can raise to the subject position in (16):

(24).     *Betty is pleasing (to, of, by) jewelry.

We could assume that voice is not a grammatical category (operator) in the system of predicate adjectives. However, suppose we assume that voice is a grammatical category, but that predicate adjectives can only P-target the external argument (subject). Then the operator for verbs and adjectives would be the same set, and only the targeting would differ. In this way we need generate one set of operators for verbs and adjectives, which share the Chomskyan feature [+V], where verb = [+Verb, -Noun] and adjective = [+Verb] and [+Noun]. A similar thing would hold for predicate prepositions, except most would have negative value operators except for tense which would be [±Past] and relevance [±Perf]:

(25)      The book is on the table.

(26)      The book has been on the table.

(27)      The book was on the table.

(28)      The book had been on the table.

Predicate adjectives may be marked for relevance. In the first set of sentences the present tense is the point of relevance:

(29)     John's been tall for several years.

(30)     Mary has been fond of jewelry since she was a child.

(31)     Those actions have been pleasing to Betty for some time.

The same may also be marked in the past tense, when it is the point of relevance:

(32)     John had been tall for a few years when he began to grow again.

(33)     Mary had been fond of jewelry for years when she grew tired of it.

(34)     Those actions had been pleasing to Betty when she was a young woman.

It appears that the binary opposition of relevance holds for all predicate adjectives. If this is the case, as assume here, then relevance must occur in every adjectival construction. The logical form (8) must now be replaced with one marking relevance:


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