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.

  • 3
    Have you tried English Language Learners?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 15:44
  • 8
    1: you either are or are not these. 2: you can be a little or a lot of these.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 15:49
  • 1
    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. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 15:54
  • 2
    As @Mitch says, the words in the first list are "absolute modifiers", but not those in the second list. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 15:56
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 7:10

2 Answers 2


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.


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

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