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4.3.2. Modification of the comparative/superlative
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Section 3.1.3 has shown that complex intensifying phrases of adjectives can be modified themselves. This section shows that there are various similarities between the modification possibilities of some of these complex intensifying phrases and those of the comparative/superlative forms. These similarities provide additional evidence for the claim that modification and comparison must be treated on a par. Note that there are also modes of modification that are possible with comparatives and superlatives only, which will be discussed as well.

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[+]  I.  Comparatives

This subsection discusses modification of comparatives and the complex modifier phrases headed by te'too'. We will see in the first subsection below that the modification possibilities of the two are more or lesss identical, which provides evidence for the claim that, syntactically speaking, comparison is a special case of modification. Nevertheless, there are also differences between modification and comparison, which will be discussed in the second subsection.

[+]  A.  Similarities with the complex modifier headed by te'too'

Comparatives can be modified by elements that indicate the extent of the higher/lower degree. This subsection shows that the modification possibilities of majoratives are more or lesss identical to those of adjectives modified by the intensifying phrase te'too'. First, the examples in (148) show that modification by means of the amplifier erg and downtoner vrij is excluded, whereas the modifiers veel and enigszins can be freely added. The corresponding examples with te'too' can be found in (187) and (190a) of Section 3.1.3, sub II.

Example 148
a. *erg/vrij duidelijker 'very/rather clearer'
a'. veel/enigszins duidelijker 'much/somewhat clearer'
b. *erg/vrij mooier 'very/rather more beautiful'
b'. veel/enigszins mooier 'much/somewhat more beautiful'
c. *erg/vrij korter 'very/rather shorter'
c'. veel/enigszins korter 'much/somewhat shorter'

Second, the examples in (149a&b) show that majoratives can be modified by noun phrases like een stuk'a lot' or een (klein) beetje'a (little) bit'. Third, when we are dealing with a measure adjective, nominal modifiers like twee meter'two meter' are possible, as is shown in (149c). Fourth, besides the noun phrase een ietsje'a bit', it is also possible to use the element iets'somewhat' to modify the comparative, as in (149d). Finally, modification by means of wat is possible, as shown in (149e). The corresponding examples with te'too' can be found in the examples (190b-f) of Section 3.1.3, sub II.

Example 149
a. een stuk/beetje duidelijker 'a lot/bit clearer'
b. een stuk/beetje mooier 'a lot/bit more beautiful'
c. twee meter korter 'two meters shorter'
d. een ietsje/iets jonger 'somewhat younger'
e. wat jonger 'somewhat younger'

The examples in (150) show that the modification possibilities of the minoratives are more or lesss similar to those of the majoratives, albeit that enigszins does not seem to yield a very felicitous result.

Example 150
a. * erg/vrij minder duidelijk
  very/rather  less  clear
a'. veel/?enigszins minder duidelijk
  much/somewhat  less  clear
b. een stuk/beetje minder duidelijk
  a lot/bit  less  clear
c. een ietsje/iets minder duidelijk
  somewhat  less  clear
d. Dit boek is nog minder duidelijk.
  this book  is even  less  clear
[+]  B.  Differences from the complex modifier headed by te'too'

The correspondence between the modification possibilities of adjectives modified by te'too' and comparative forms discussed in the previous subsection provides additional evidence for the claim that, syntactically speaking, comparison is a special case of modification. Nevertheless, there are also a number of differences between modification and comparison.

[+]  1.  Modifiers of “distance"

The (a)-examples in (151) show that majoratives differ from adjectives modified by te'too' in that the former can also be modified by modifiers that specify the distance on an implied scale between the compared entities: beduidend'significantly', opmerkelijk'remarkably', zichtbaar'visibly'. The modifiers in the (b)-examples, which seem comparable to those in the (a)-examples, are possible in both cases, but with different meaning contributions: in (151b) the modifiers specify the distance on the implied scale between the compared entities, whereas in (151b') they indicate the distance on the implied scale between an implicitly assumed norm and the actual size of Jan.

Example 151
a. Jan is beduidend/opmerkelijk/zichtbaar groter dan Peter.
  Jan is significantly/remarkably/visibly  bigger  than Peter
a'. Jan is ?beduidend/*opmerkelijk/?zichtbaar te groot.
  Jan is significantly/remarkably/visibly  too big
b. Jan is flink/fors/duidelijk groter dan Peter.
  Jan is considerably/substantially/clearly  bigger than Peter
b'. Jan is flink/fors/duidelijk te groot.
  Jan is considerably/substantially/clearly  too big
[+]  2.  Modification by nog'even'

Majoratives differ from adjectives modified by te'too' in that the former can be modified by the accented element nog'even'; cf. Section 4.1.1. This is illustrated in (152). Note in passing that the primed examples are acceptable if nog is interpreted as an adverb of time, that is, as English still. Under this interpretation, which does not concern us here, nog need not be accented.

Example 152
a. Dit boek is nóg duidelijker.
  this book  is even  clearer
a'. # Dit boek is nog te duidelijk.
b. Dit boek is nóg mooier.
  this book  is even  more beautiful
b'. # Dit boek is nog te mooi.
c. Deze jurk is nóg korter.
  this dress  is even  shorter
c'. # Deze jurk is nog te kort.
[+]  3.  Modification by hoe langer hoe A -er

A remarkable case of modification, which occurs with majoratives only, is given in (153) and (154). The string hoe langer hoe A -er forms a constituent, which is clear from the fact illustrated in the primeless (b)-examples that it can be placed in clause-initial position as a whole; cf. the constituency test. This is also suggested by the fact illustrated in the primed (b)-examples that the string cannot be split.

Example 153
a. Het boek wordt hoe langer hoe beter.
  the book becomes  how longer  how better
  'The book is getting better all the time.'
b. Hoe langer hoe beter wordt het boek.
b'. * Hoe langer wordt het boek hoe beter.
b''. * Hoe beter wordt het boek hoe langer.
Example 154
a. Peter wordt hoe langer hoe brutaler.
  Peter becomes  how longer  how cheekier
  'Peter is getting cheekier all the time.'
b. Hoe langer hoe brutaler wordt Peter.
b'. * Hoe langer wordt Peter hoe brutaler.
b''. * Hoe brutaler wordt Peter hoe langer.

The internal makeup of the string hoe langer hoe A -er is far from clear. Perhaps we should consider the string hoe langer hoe as a lexical unit with a more or lesss similar meaning as the adverbs steeds/alsmaar'continuously'; cf. the discussion of (17a). Although the second majorative ( beter/brutaler) clearly is the head of the complex phrase, it does not seem to be the semantic target of the modification: instead, the construction expresses that the process of getting more A is ongoing, that is, we are dealing with a restriction on the aspectual nature of the event. This is also clear from the fact that the progressive copula worden'to be' cannot be replaced by the stative copula zijn'to have been'. In this respect, this construction again resembles adverbial phrases like steeds/alsmaar'continuously'

Example 155
a. * Het boek is hoe langer hoe beter.
b. * Peter is hoe langer hoe brutaler.

      The examples in (156) show that the string hoe langer hoe beter cannot be readily used in attributive position, which is supported by the fact that our Google search (3/12/2015) on the string [ een hoe langer hoe beter(e)] resulted in no more than three relevant cases. The (a)-examples in (157) show that the same thing holds for the corresponding constructions with the adverb steeds'continuously'; the primed example is marked if the present participle of the copula worden'to become' is not expressed. That we may be dealing with a semantic restriction is strongly suggested by the fact that the same thing can be observed in the (b)-examples in (157), in which the phrase beter en beter'better and better' expresses a similar meaning as hoe langer hoe beter and steeds beter.

Example 156
a. ?? een hoe langer hoe beter boek
  how longer  how better  book
b. *? een hoe langer hoe brutalere jongen
  how longer  how cheekier  boy
Example 157
a. Het boek wordt steeds beter.
  the book  becomes  continuously  better
a'. een steeds beter ??(wordend) boek.
  continuously  better    becoming  book
b. Het boek wordt beter en beter.
  the book  becomes  better and better
b'. een beter en beter ??(wordend) boek.
  better and better    becoming  book

      The examples in (158) show that the presence of the string hoe langer hoe blocks the addition of the comparative dan/als-phrase (cf. the discussion of (17a)), and that it is not compatible with other modifiers, like veel.

Example 158
a. Het boek wordt (*hoe langer hoe) beter dan/als ...
b. Het boek wordt (*hoe langer hoe) veel beter.

      Note, finally, that the construction in (153) and (154) should not be confused with the examples in (159), which may involve a (reduced) adjunct clause and which are special in that both clauses have the finite verb in clause-final position; see Section V10.3.1 for more discussion of this construction.

Example 159
a. Hoe langer het boek wordt, hoe beter [het is].
  how longer  the book  gets  how better  [it is]
  'The longer the book gets, the better itʼll be.'
b. Hoe langer je oefent, hoe beter het zal gaan.
  how longer  you  practice  how better  it will  go
  'The longer you practice, the better itʼll go.'
[+]  II.  Superlatives

This subsection discusses similarities and differences between modification of superlatives and modification of complex modifier phrases headed by zo.

[+]  A.  Similarities with the complex modifier headed by zo

Superlatives and adjectives modified by the degree element zo both allow the addition of the element mogelijk. For adjectives modified by zo, this has been discussed in Section 3.1.3, sub ID. For superlatives, we illustrate this in (160). Occasionally, the element mogelijk can be replaced by denkbaar'conceivable', as in (160c); this is never possible if we are dealing with adjectives modified by zo.

Example 160
a. de kortst mogelijke weg
  the  shortest  possible  road
b. de best mogelijke oplossing
  the  best  possible  solution
c. de best denkbare oplossing
  the  best  conceivable  solution
[+]  B.  Differences from the complex modifier headed by zo

The superlative differs from adjectives modified by zo in that it can also be modified by the discontinuous PP op XP na, in which XP can either be a numeral or a noun phrase, and verreweg'by far'.

[+]  1.  Op + NUMERAL + na

The first construction involves a definite numeral (generally of a relatively low cardinality). In (161a), we give an example that involves a superlative used in complementive position. The (b)-examples in (161) show that the PP can occur either before or after the definite determiner if the superlative is used attributively.

Example 161
a. dat Jan op één na het best is.
  that  Jan  op  one  na  the best  is
  'that Jan is second best.'
b. Jan is op één na de beste student.
  Jan is op  one  na  the best student
  'Jan is the second best student.'
b'. Jan is de op één na beste student.

Besides (161a), constructions such as (162a), in which the superlative is preceded by de'the', are also possible. In these cases, de is the regular definite determiner, and we are dealing with noun phrases in which the head noun is deleted, which is indicated by [ e]. This means that example (162a) is structurally parallel to (161b). Not surprisingly, the head noun in (161b') can also be left out, which leads to the construction in (162b).

Example 162
a. Jan is op één na de beste [e].
b. Jan is de op één na beste [e].

      The PP op + numeral + na must be left-adjacent to the predicatively used superlative. First, the examples in (163a&a') show that it cannot be moved leftwards in isolation. Second, the (b)-examples in (163) show that topicalization of the adjective is possible only if the PP is pied-piped, which is a clear indication that the two make up a constituent. Finally, the (c)-examples in (163) show that the PP cannot occur to the immediate right of the adjective or be placed after the verbs in clause-final position. Note, however, that example (163c') improves considerably if the PP in extraposed position is preceded by an intonation break.

Example 163
a. ?? Op één na is Jan het best.
a'. * Jan is op één na waarschijnlijk het best.
b. Op één na het best is Jan.
b'. * Het best is Jan op één na.
c. ?? dat Jan het best op één na is.
c'. dat Jan het best is *( , ) op één na.

For completeness’ sake, note that the discussion in Paardekooper (1986) seems to suggest that the order in (163c) is acceptable. Most of his examples involve APs that are not followed by a verb, however, so we may actually be dealing with the extraposition construction in (163c'), which he considers fully acceptable.
      Example (164a) shows that the pre-determiner PP in (161b) cannot be topicalized in isolation, which suggests that the PP forms a constituent with the noun phrase; cf. de op één na beste student is Jan waarschijnlijk. That the PP and the noun phrase in (161b) form a constituent is less clear than in the case of the PP and the superlative in (161a), however, given that topicalization of the noun phrase also leads to a marked result, both with and without pied piping of the PP; cf. (164a'&a''). Further, it can be observed that placement of the PP to the right of the noun phrase is not possible, although the result improves slightly in the case of extraposition if the PP is preceded by an intonation break; the improvement is not as great as in the case of (163c'), however.

Example 164
a. * Op één na is Jan de beste student.
a'. ?? Op één na de beste student is Jan waarschijnlijk.
a''. * De beste student is Jan waarschijnlijk op één na.
b. * dat Jan de beste student op één na is.
b'. dat Jan de beste student is *(?? , ) op één na.
[+]  2.  Op + NP + na

The discontinuous PP op ... na may also contain a full noun phrase. This PP is used especially if the proposition expressed by the clause involves universal (x) or negative existential (¬x) quantification. The universal quantification can be implicit, as in example (165c) without allemaal'all'.

Example 165
a. Op Peter na is iedereen/niemand aanwezig.
  op Peter na  is everyone/no one  present
  'Except for Peter, everyone/no one is present.'
b. Op gisteren na ben ik daar altijd/nooit geweest.
  op yesterday na  am  there  always/never  been
  'Except for yesterday Iʼve always/never been there.'
c. Die boeken heb ik op Nostromo na (allemaal) gelezen.
  those books  have  op  Nostromo na   all  read
  'I read all those books, except for Nostromo.'

Example (166) shows that the PP op NP na can also be used if a superlative is present, which is not really surprising given that the superlative also expresses universal quantification; cf. the semantic representation in (27b).

Example 166
dat Jan op Peter na het best is.
  that  Jan OP  Peter  NA  the best  is
'that Jan is the best after Peter.'

Although (166) at first sight strongly resembles the construction in (161a), we will argue below that the most likely analysis of these constructions is one in which this PP does not form a constituent with the adjective, in contrast to the PP op + numeral + na in (161). A first indication that the PPs in (161) and (166) are different is that the PP op NP na cannot be placed after the determiner in primeless examples such as (167). Note that we find the same facts in the primed examples, which support the analysis of examples of this sort in terms of N-ellipsis; see the discussion of (131) and (162).

Example 167
a. Jan is op Peter na de beste student.
  Jan is OP  Peter  NA  the best student
  'Jan is the best student after Peter.'
a'. Jan is op Peter na de beste [e].
b. *? Jan is de op Peter na beste student.
b'. * Jan is de op Peter na beste [e].

      A second indication that the two PPs are different is that the (a)-examples in (168) show that the PP in (166) can be moved leftwards stranding the AP. This suggests that the PP and the adjective do not form a constituent in this case, but that the PP acts as an independent adverbial modifier of the clause. This idea is supported by the fact that the topicalization construction in (168b) is marginal at best, although it should be observed that movement of the adjective in isolation, as in (168b'), seems to be awkward as well. Placement of the PP to the right of the adjective is not possible, although the example involving extraposition improves if the PP is preceded by an intonation break. The ungrammaticality of (168c) follows naturally from the claim that the PP is not part of the AP but an independent adverbial phrase, since the complementive adjective must be left-adjacent to the verb in clause-final position; cf. Section 6.2.2, sub I.

Example 168
a. Op Peter na is Jan het best.
a'. Jan is op Peter na waarschijnlijk het best.
b. ?? Op Peter na het best is Jan.
b'. ?? Het best is Jan op Peter na.
c. * dat Jan het best op Peter na is.
c'. dat Jan het best is *( , ) op Peter na.

      The PP in (166) also differs from the PP in (161b). First, (169a) shows that topicalization of the PP op Peter na in isolation is fully acceptable. Pied piping of the PP under topicalization of the noun phrase, on the other hand, is entirely excluded. Topicalization of the noun phrase in isolation is acceptable, but only if the PP in clause-final position is preceded by an intonation break. As is shown in (169b), placement of the PP to the right of the noun phrase is impossible, but extraposition gives rise to a reasonably acceptable result.

Example 169
a. Op Peter na is Jan de beste student.
a'. * Op Peter na de beste student is Jan waarschijnlijk.
a''. De beste student is Jan waarschijnlijk ?( , ) op Peter na.
b. * dat Jan de beste student op Peter na is.
b'. dat Jan de beste student is ?( , ) op Peter na.

On the basis of these differences we can conclude that the PP op NUMERAL na modifies the superlative, forming a constituent with either the superlative or the noun phrase that includes the superlative, whereas the PP op NP na is not part of the AP, but acts as an adverbial modifier of (some other element in) the clause.

[+]  3.  Verreweg'by far'

The superlative can also be preceded by verreweg'by far'. This modifier specifies the distance on the implied scale between the entities that are compared; cf. the cases of modification of the comparative in (151). Despite the fact that the constituency test in (170a') clearly indicates that the modifier and the superlative form a constituent, the modifier cannot be adjacent to the superlative in attributive position; it precedes the definite determiner. Still, the constituency test in (170b') shows that verreweg forms a constituent with the complete noun phrase.

Example 170
a. Jan is verreweg het best
  Jan is by far  the best
a'. <Verreweg> het best is Jan <*verreweg>.
b. Jan is <verreweg> de <??verreweg> beste kandidaat.
  Jan is    by far  the  best  candidate
b'. <verreweg> de beste kandidaat is Jan <*verreweg>
[+]  4.  Some special cases

There are no other cases of modification of the superlative, which is probably due to the “absolute" nature of the superlative. It should be observed, however, that the superlative can be emphasized by morphological means, namely by affixing the superlative with the prefix aller-. It should be noted, however, that the form aller-A- st need not be interpreted as a superlative: it can also be used as a non-comparative adjective that does not denote the highest degree but a very high degree. This use of the form aller-A- st is occasionally called the elativus, but since this term is also used for locative case, we want to introduce the term pseudo-superlative. Some examples of this use are given in (171a&c).

Example 171
a. een allerààrdigste jongen (*van de klas)
pseudo-superlative
  very.nice  boy    of the group
b. de àlleraardigste jongen (van de klas)
emphatic superlative
  the  nicest  boy    of the group
c. Jan is allerààrdigst (*van de klas).
pseudo-superlative
  Jan is very.nice    of the group
d. Jan is het àlleraardigst (van de klas).
emphatic superlative
  Jan is the nicest   of the group

The pseudo-superlatives differ in various respects from the emphatic superlatives in (171b&d). First, the attributively used pseudo-superlative in (171a) is preceded by the indefinite article een'a'; if the article is replaced by the definite article de'the', as in (171b), the adjective is interpreted as an emphatic superlative. Second, the predicatively used pseudo-superlative in (171c) is not preceded by the element het; if het is added, as in (171d), the adjective is necessarily interpreted as an emphatic superlative. Third, the pseudo- and emphatic superlative differ with respect to the placement of word accent; the pseudo-superlative has word accent on the adjective ( allerààrdigst), whereas the emphatic superlative has word accent on the prefix ( àlleraardigst). Finally, the emphatic superlative can be combined with a comparative van-phrase just like the regular superlative, whereas this is excluded in the case of the pseudo-superlative.
      The superlative form best can also occur as a pseudo-superlative without the prefix aller-. Some examples are given in the primeless examples in (172); again the adjective does not express the highest degree but a very high degree of some property, which is partly contextually determined in this case. Observe that the pseudo-superlative best cannot be used as a complementive, unlike the true superlative het best, as shown by the primed and doubly-primed examples in (172). Finally, note that the pseudo-superlative best is often used in salutations of letters: beste Jan'dear Jan'.

Example 172
a. een beste kerel
  very.nice  chap
b. een beste wijn
   a  very.good  wine
a'. * Peter is best.
  Peter is very.nice
b'. ?? Deze wijn is best.
   this wine  is very.good
a''. Peter is het best.
  Peter is the best
b''. Deze wijn is het best.
   this wine  is the best
References:
  • Paardekooper, P.C1986Beknopte ABN-syntaksisEindhovenP.C. Paardekooper
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