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3.1.4. Modification of measure adjectives

This section discusses modification of the so-called measure adjectives. Some examples of these adjectives, which always come in antonym pairs, are given in (230). We will show that, compared to the other types of scalar adjectives, measure adjectives exhibit rather special behavior with respect to modification.

Example 230
a. breed 'wide'
a'. smal 'narrow'
b. diep 'deep'
b'. ondiep 'shallow'
c. dik 'thick'
c'. dun 'thin'
d. lang 'long'
d'. kort 'short'
e. lang 'long'
e'. kort 'brief'
f. hoog 'high'
f'. laag 'low'
g. oud 'old'
g'. jong 'young'
h. zwaar 'heavy'
h'. licht 'light'
[+]  I.  Modification by means of an intensifier

Being scalar, measure adjectives can be modified either by means of an amplifier or a downtoner, which is illustrated for some of these adjectives in (230).

Example 231
a. zeer/vrij breed/smal
  very/rather  wide/narrow
b. heel/tamelijk oud/jong
  very/rather  old/young
c. absurd/een beetje lang/kort
  absurdly/a bit  long/short

For the same reason, measure adjectives can be combined with the interrogative intensifier hoe'how'. This is illustrated in (232) for some of the adjectives in (230). Observe that questioning the adjectives in the primed examples of (230) normally gives rise to an infelicitous result; the reasons for this will be discussed in Subsection II.

Example 232
a. Hoe breed/??smal is het zwembad?
  how wide/narrow  is the swimming pool
b. Hoe oud/??jong is dat paard?
  how old/young  is that horse
c. Hoe lang/??kort is het zwembad?
  how long/short  is the swimming pool

The examples in (233) show that the measure adjective can also occur in exclamative constructions with wat.

Example 233
a. Wat is dat zwembad breed/smal!
  what  is that swimming pool  wide/narrow
b. Wat is dat paard oud/jong!
  what  is that horse old/young
c. Wat is dat zwembad lang/kort!
  what  is that swimming pool  long/short
[+]  II.  Modification by means of a nominal measure phrase

Measure adjectives are special in that they can be modified by nominal measure phrases like drie meter'three meters' in (234a). The ungrammaticality of (234b) shows that the use of such measure phrases is normally restricted to contexts in which no other intensifier is present. Nominal measure phrases are possible, however, if the adjective is modified by te'too', in which case they indicate the extent to which the subject of the adjective exceeds the implied norm. The first two subsections below will discuss, respectively, examples of the type in (234a) and (234b). The third subsection concludes with a discussion of subextraction of the nominal measure phrase from complex APs.

Example 234
a. De balk is drie meter lang.
  the beam  is three meters  long
b. * De balk is drie meter erg lang.
  the beam  is three meters  very  long
c. De balk is drie meter te lang.
  the beam  is three meters  too  long
[+]  A.  The positive form of the measure adjectives

The adjectives in the primed and primeless examples in (230) differ in an important respect: adjectives of the former group can be modified not only by means of intensifiers, as in (231), but also by means of nominal measure phrases; combining the adjectives of the latter group with these measure phrases normally leads to an infelicitous result. This is demonstrated in (235).

Example 235
a. drie meter breed/diep/dik/lang/hoog
  three meter  wide/deep/thick/long/high
a'. * drie meter smal/ondiep/dun/kort/laag
  three meter  narrow/shallow/thin/short/low
b. tien jaar oud/*jong
  ten year  old/young
c. twee uur lang/*kort
  two hour  long/short

In the acceptable examples in (235), the adjectives have lost their antonymous meaning aspect in the sense that they no longer stand in opposition to the adjectives in the primed examples in (230). The use of the adjective oud'old' in (236a), for example, does not imply that the kitten is old; in fact, the kitten is quite young (namely two days), which can be emphasized by using an evaluative particle such as pas'only' or maar'only'. Therefore, it is clear that the adjective oud'old' no longer stands in opposition to the adjective jong'young'. Something similar holds for the adjective lang'long' in (236b).

Example 236
a. Het poesje is (pas) twee dagen oud/*jong.
  the kitten  is only  two days  old/young
b. De weg is (maar) twintig meter lang/*kort.
  the road  is only  twenty meter  long/short

Given that measure adjectives like oud and lang do not exhibit an antonymous meaning aspect if they are modified by a measure phrase, they should be considered as neutral forms in such cases. Adjectives such as jong and kort, on the other hand, normally retain their full meaning, which accounts for the fact that examples such as (237) can only be used in jest.

Example 237
Opa is negentig jaar jong.
  grandfather  is ninety years  young

      If measure adjectives are questioned, it is generally the neutral form that shows up, as in (232) and (238). The non-neutral form can only be used if the context provides specific clues that the entity in question is in fact young/short and that the speaker wants to know to what degree this is the case.

Example 238
a. Hoe oud/??jong is het poesje? (Het is pas) twee dagen (oud).
  how old/young  is the kitten   it is only  two days  old
b. Hoe lang/??kort is de weg? (Hij is maar) twintig meter (lang).
  how long/short  is the road  he is only twenty meter  long

      The semantics of the examples above is rather transparent: the nominal measure phrase indicates the precise position of the subject of the adjective on the implied scale. For instance, example (236a) indicates that d = ||2 days||. However, we cannot represent this example as in (239a) as this would wrongly imply that the kitten is old. A more appropriate representation would therefore be the one in (239b), in which the use of boldface indicates that we are dealing with the neuter form of a measure adjective.

Example 239
a. ∃d [ OUD (het poesje,d) & d = ||2 days||]
b. ∃d [ AGE (het poesje,d) & d = ||2 days||]

      The nominal measure phrase and the adjective form a constituent, which is clear from the fact that they can be placed in clause-initial position together; cf. the constituency test. This is demonstrated by means of the primeless examples in (240), which correspond to the examples in (236). The singly-primed examples show that topicalization of the nominal modifier in isolation gives rise to a slightly marked result, and requires an intonation contour with heavy accent on the numeral. Stranding the nominal measure phrase, as in the doubly-primed examples, is excluded.

Example 240
a. [Twee dagen oud] is het poesje pas.
  two days old  is the kitten  only
a'. ?? TWEE dagen is het poesje pas oud.
a''. * Oud is het poesje pas twee dagen.
b. [Twintig meter lang] is de weg maar.
  twenty meter long  is the road  only
b'. ?? TWINtig meter is de weg maar lang.
b''. * Lang is de weg maar twintig meter.

      Occasionally, the predicative adjective can be dropped if a nominal measure phrase is present. This is, for example, the case if we are dealing with age, as in (241a). If referring to human beings, examples such as (241b) can also be used to indicate a personʼs height.

Example 241
a. Jan is veertig jaar (oud).
  Jan is forty year   old
b. Jan is twee meter (lang).
  Jan is two meter   high

Similarly, if a certain object is partly defined by means of having a certain proportion (length, width, etc.), or if the intended proportion can be recovered from the context, the adjective is occasionally left out as well. Some examples are given in (242).

Example 242
a. Deze toren is honderd meter (hoog).
  this tower  is hundred meter   high
b. Deze weg is drie kilometer (lang).
  this road  is three kilometer   long
c. De brief is drie kantjes (lang).
  the letter  is three pages   long
d. Deze draad is twee millimeter (dik).
  this thread  is two millimeter   thick

      As is shown in the primeless examples of (243), the temporal measure adjective lang differs from the other measure adjectives in that it cannot readily be used in copular constructions. The intended assertions can be expressed instead by means of the verb duren'to go on' in the primed examples. Note that the adjective is preferably dropped if a nominal measure phrase is present, which may be due to the fact that the meaning expressed by the neutral form of the adjective lang is already implied by the measure verb duren.

Example 243
a. ?? De operatie is lang.
  the operation  is long
a'. De operatie duurt lang.
  the operation  lasts  long
b. * De operatie is twee uur.
  the operation  is two hours
b'. De operatie duurt twee uur.
  the operation  lasts  two hours
c. ?? De operatie is twee uur lang.
  the operation  is two hours  long
c'. ? De operatie duurt twee uur lang.
  the operation  lasts  two hours  long

The copular verb zijn'to be' is possible, however, in the examples in (244), which involve coordination of a temporal measure adjective and an adjective of some other type. The measure verb duren, on the other hand, is excluded in these cases.

Example 244
a. De vergadering was/*duurde kort maar krachtig.
  the meeting  was/lasted  short  but powerful
b. De vergadering was/*duurde lang en vervelend.
  the meeting  was/lasted  long and boring

      The primeless examples of (245) show that the measure adjective of weight zwaar'heavy' can be used in copular constructions, but not if a nominal measure phrase is present. If we replace the copula by the measure verb wegen'to weigh', as in the primed examples, the nominal measure phrase becomes fully acceptable. Expressing both the measure adjective and the nominal measure phrase yields a rather marked result, which may again be due to the fact that the meaning expressed by the neutral form of the adjective zwaar is already implied by the measure verb wegen.

Example 245
a. Mijn kat is (erg) zwaar.
  my cat  is very heavy
a'. % Mijn kat weegt (erg) zwaar.
   my cat  weighs  very heavy
b. ?? Mijn kat is vier kilo.
  my cat  is four kilos
b'. Mijn kat weegt vier kilo.
   my cat  weighs  four kilos
c. ? Mijn kat is vier kilo zwaar.
  my cat  is four kilos  heavy
c'. * Mijn kat weegt vier kilo zwaar.
   my cat  weighs  four kilos  heavy

The examples in (246) show that measure verbs obligatorily take an adjectival complement if no nominal measure phrase is present, which shows that the meanings expressed by the non-neutral forms of the measure adjectives surpass those already implied by the measure verbs. For completeness’ sake, note that the measure adjectives can at least marginally be left out if the verb is heavily stressed or used in constructions such as De vergadering duurde en duurde en duurde'The meeting went on and on and on'.

Example 246
a. De vergadering duurt *(lang/kort).
  the meeting  lasts     long/brief
b. Mijn kat weegt *(zwaar/licht).
  my cat  weighs     heavy/light

For completeness’ sake, we want to note that examples such as (245a') are often rejected in the normative literature, although the metaphorical use of zwaar wegen in example such as (247) is accepted by all speakers; for details, we refer the reader to onzetaal.nl/taaladvies/advies/zwaar-wegen-veel-wegen. We will briefly return to this issue in V2.4.

Example 247
a. Dit argument woog zwaar bij onze beslissing.
  the argument  weighed  heavy  with our decision
  'this argument played an important role in our decision.'
b. Dat schuldgevoel weegt zwaar.
  that sense.of.guilt  weighs  heavy
  'That sense of guilt is a burden.'
[+]  B.  Measure adjectives modified by te'too' and comparatives

The examples in (248) show that nominal measure phrases can also be used to modify complex APs headed by te'too'. In cases like these, the measure adjectives are always overtly expressed.

Example 248
a. De kast is drie centimeter te breed.
  the closet  is three centimeters  too wide
b. De vergadering duurde twee uur te *(lang).
  the meeting  lasted  two hours  too long
  'The meeting went on for two hours.'

The fact that the measure adjective cannot be omitted may be related to the fact that we are not dealing with the neutral form of the adjectives. The examples in (249) show, at least, that non-neutral forms can enter the construction as well; cf. the contrast with the examples without te ’too’ in (235).

Example 249
a. drie centimeter te breed/diep/dik/lang/hoog
  three centimeter  too  wide/deep/thick/long/high
a'. drie centimeter te smal/ondiep/dun/kort/laag
  three centimeter  too  narrow/shallow/thin/short/low
b. tien jaar te oud/jong
  ten year  too  old/young
c. twee uur te lang/kort
  two hour  too  long/short

Note that it is not only the intensifier te'too' that may license the presence of a nominal measure but that the same thing holds for the comparative form of the measure adjectives in (250); see Section 4.3.2, sub I, for more discussion. For convenience, we will include such comparative examples in the discussion below.

Example 250
a. drie centimeter breder/dieper/dikker/langer/hoger
  three centimeter  wider/deeper/thicker/longer/higher
a'. drie centimeter smaller/ondieper/dunner/korter/lager
  three centimeter  more.narrow/more.shallow/thinner/shorter/lower
b. tien jaar ouder/jonger
  ten year  older/younger
c. twee uur langer/korter
  two hour  longer/shorter

The fact that nominal measure phrases may modify the non-neuter forms of the measure adjectives if the latter are modified by te or have the comparative form may also account for the fact that adjectives like zwaar'heavy' and warm'warm', which cannot readily be preceded by nominal measure phrases in their unmodified positive form (cf. (245)), can co-occur with them in (251).

Example 251
a. Jan weegt 50 kilo *(te) zwaar/licht.
  Jan weighs  50 kilo    too  heavy/light
a'. Jan weegt 5 kilo zwaarder/lichter.
  Jan weighs  5 kilo  heavier/lighter
b. Het water is 10 graden *(te) warm/koud.
  the water  is 10 degrees    too  warm/cold
b'. Het water is 10 graden warmer/kouder.
  the water  is 10 degrees  warmer/colder

      From a semantic point of view the examples discussed so far are not completely on a par with those in (235). Section, sub I, has argued that the truth-value of constructions containing a gradable adjective is generally determined in relation to a possibly contextually determined comparison class/set. In the case of an adjective in the positive degree or an adjective preceded by te'too', the comparison class/set can be made explicit by means of a voor-PP, and in the case of a comparative by means of a dan/als-phrase. This is illustrated in (252).

Example 252
a. Jan is lang voor een jongen van zijn leeftijd.
  Jan is long  for  a boy  of his age
b. Jan is te lang voor een jongen van zijn leeftijd.
  Jan is too long  for  a boy  of his age
c. Jan is langer dan Peter
  Jan is longer than Peter

Things change, however, if the adjective is modified by a nominal measure phrase. The examples in (253) show that this blocks the addition of a voor-phrase to the adjective in the positive degree, whereas nothing changes if the adjective is preceded by te or in the comparative form. This suggests that, in a sense, the addition of a nominal measure phrase to adjectives in the positive degree makes the AP “absolute" in nature, whereas the gradable nature of adjectives preceded by te and comparatives remains unaffected.

Example 253
a. Jan is 1.90 m lang (*voor een jongen van zijn leeftijd).
  Jan is 1.90 m long     for  a boy  of his age
b. Jan is 20 cm te lang voor een jongen van zijn leeftijd.
  Jan is 20 cm too long  for  a boy  of his age
c. Jan is 10 cm langer dan Peter
  Jan is 10 cm longer than Peter

      The primeless examples in (254) show that, as in the case of the measure adjectives in the positive form in (240), preposing of APs like those in (249) and (250) may pied-pipe the nominal measure phrases, which demonstrates that they form a constituent. The singly-primed examples show that preposing the nominal phrase in isolation is marked, but not entirely excluded. Stranding the nominal measure phrase is normally impossible; the doubly-primed examples may perhaps be marginally acceptable if the nominal measure phrase is presented as an afterthought, in which case it must be preceded by an intonation break, but this is irrelevant here.

Example 254
a. [Drie jaar te oud/jong] is Jan.
  'Jan is three years too old/young.'
b. [Drie jaar ouder/jonger] is Jan.
  'Jan is three years older/younger.'
a'. ?? Drie jaar is Jan te oud/jong.
b'. ?? Drie jaar is Jan ouder/jonger.
a''. * Te oud is Jan drie jaar.
b''. * Ouder is Jan drie jaar.
[+]  C.  Extraction of the nominal measure phrase

Examples (240) and (254) have shown that APs modified by a nominal measure phrase normally cannot be split. This is possible, however, if the nominal measure phrase is questioned. We illustrate this in (255) for some of the primeless examples in (249) and (250).

Example 255
a. Hoeveel centimeter is dat zwembad te breed/diep/lang?
  how.many centimeters  is that pool  too  wide/deep/long
a'. Hoeveel centimeter is dit zwembad breder/dieper/langer dan dat andere?
  how.many centimeters  is that pool  wider/deeper/longer than that other.one
b. Hoeveel centimeter is dat zwembad te smal/ondiep/kort?
  how.many centimeters  is that pool  too  narrow/shallow/short
b'. Hoeveel centimeter is dit zwembad smaller/ondieper/korter dan dat andere?
  how.many centimeters  is this pool  narrower/shallowest/shorter than  that other.one
c. Hoeveel jaar is Jan te oud/jong?
  how.many years is Jan too old/young
c'. Hoeveel jaar is Jan ouder/jonger dan Peter?
  how.many years  is Jan older/younger  than Peter

Extraction of the nominal measure phrase is sometimes also allowed if it is assigned heavy accent or preceded by a focus particle like slechts'only'.

Example 256
a. Slechts drie jaar is Jan te oud/jong.
  only three years  is Jan too young/old
b. Slechts drie jaar is Jan ouder/jonger.
  only three years  is Jan older/younger

      Given the acceptability of the examples above, we expect similar extractions to be possible in the case of neutral measure adjectives in the positive degree. This expectation, however, is not borne out; the primeless examples in (257) sound relatively odd (although examples such as (257a) are given as fully acceptable by Corver, 1990, for which reason we mark it with a percentage sign). Plausibly, this should not be attributed to some syntactic restriction but to the fact that the same questions can be expressed more economically by combining the positive measure adjectives with the interrogative intensifier hoe'how'; cf. example (238).

Example 257
a. % Hoeveel meter is dat zwembad breed/diep/lang?
  how.many meters  is that pool  wide/deep/long
a'. Hoe breed/diep/lang is dat zwembad?
  how wide/deep/long  is that pool
b. *? Hoeveel jaar is Peter oud?
  how.many years  is Peter old
b'. Hoe oud is Peter?
  how old  is Peter
  • Corver, Norbert1990The syntax of left branch extractionTilburgUniversity of TilburgThesis
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