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 Jul 15 '13 at 15:44
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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.

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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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