English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What semantic property or properties are shared any words in 1 and 2?

  1. alive, asleep, dead, married, pregnant

  2. tall, smart, interesting, bad, tired

I don't see any shared between those words.

share|improve this question
Have you tried English Language Learners? – TrevorD Jul 15 '13 at 15:44
1: you either are or are not these. 2: you can be a little or a lot of these. – Mitch Jul 15 '13 at 15:49
Mitch has it. List 1 contains binary characteristics, with only two states: yes and no; these parallel count nouns. List 2 contains multi-state gradable characteristics, which can be measured and compared on a cline in at least one semantic dimension; these parallel mass nouns. – John Lawler Jul 15 '13 at 15:54
As @Mitch says, the words in the first list are "absolute modifiers", but not those in the second list. – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '13 at 15:56
Does someone here think they understand the Q and happen to know the answer? Would they be so kind as to help the OP? – Kris Jul 17 '13 at 7:10

The common thread in set 1 is "state". As in the state of being alive, asleep etc. The common property in set 2 is "quality". They are all adjectives and adjectives qualify nouns. Therefore, "quality" can be determined as the underlying semantic property.

share|improve this answer

Set 1 is not gradable: not to be modified by "very" and without comparative or superlative degree. Set 2 is gradable.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.