I encountered the term predicate transfer at first in a brief and rather clumsy wikipedia entry, where although the title makes semantic sense, and I would be confident to guess its meaning as a term, the article seemed to only make things more confusing (apologies to its author[s]). Here is the article:

Wikipedia: Predicate transfer

I also found this article,

Academia: Pieces of Predicate Transfer [Edited transcript of talk, 2012]

Sadly nowhere else than academia.edu, so I'm not strictly able to cite it using a typical referencing system and am unable to check its provenance. Nonetheless I've had a look through it. It uses the same example as in the wikipedia entry, regarding being "parked", to me the term predicate transfer here appears only to justify the application of esoteric language to the semantic meaning. Example 4 in the article, "the ham sandwich at table 7 is getting restless" sounds like a metonym, and not more. The person at table seven has been substituted for a related characteristic (I'm not sure if the ham sandwich that this person is waiting for quite qualifies as an adjunct).

Or does predicate transfer describe a metonym, in the sense that a metonym exemplifies predicate transfer but doesn't describe it. In sort of hypo/hyper-nymic relationship, where x (metonym) is a kind of y (predicate transfer) and y is not strictly a kind of x.

Is anybody able to clear this term up, or alert me to something I have missed or am missing?

Many thanks, Andrew

  • I had not heard of it before - it seems to be, as you suggest, a form of metonymy, synecdoche or transferred epithet applied to the entire predicate. If it were called "Transferred Predicate" it might be more helpful as a term.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 20, 2021 at 19:49
  • This appears to be just another synonym for metonymy. The way to make a name in linguistics is to make a Name in linguistics and then use it exclusively, instead of the old name. Aug 21, 2021 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


Predicate transfer

Many referential metonyms are direct stand-ins. Ham sandwich over there is getting ready to pay and leave. There is no transfer of the predicate:

[something (ham sandwich) = someone (that person)] is getting ready to pay and leave.

In the oft-cited example of predicate transfer I'm parked out back, there is no object standing in for me, but I (a person) cannot be physically parked like a car is. Rather, the predicate parked out back (or property of being parked out back) is transferred from the car (actually being parked out back) to me ("being parked out back").

After presenting this example, the Wiki article goes on to discusses the wrong but theoretically possible interpretations of this utterance.

In linguistics, predicate transfer1 is the reassignment of a property to an object which would not otherwise inherently have that property. Thus, the expression "I am parked out back" conveys the meaning of "parked" from "car" to the property of "I possess a car". This avoids incorrect polysemous interpretations of "parked": that "people can be parked", or that "I am pretending to be a car", or that "I am something which can be parked". This is supported by the morphology: "We are parked out back" does not mean that there are multiple cars; rather, that there are multiple passengers (having the property of being in possession of a car). Wiki

1G. Nunberg, "Transfers of Meaning", Journal of Semantics, 1995 - Oxford Univ Press

Another example with explanation:

The analyses of these examples are meant to demonstrate that referential metonyms are basically abbreviations. What is left out is something that 'goes beyond saying' in the context in question, but more importantly, that which is retained has, in its particular context, the greatest information value.
I have so far concentrated on the interpretation of the metonym itself and ignored the interpretation of the utterance containing it. Also in the following I will restrict my attention in this way, but will here at least mention the distinction. Consider I am bugged in the sense of its paraphrase The place I am staying at is bugged. Both describe the same type of situation and have the same truth conditions. Yet their interpretations are not quite equivalent. In I am bugged what is conveyed is not only that the place where the speaker happens to be is bugged, but that this is something that is of particular relevance to the speaker. Nunberg refers to this phenomenon as predicate transfer. Metonomy in Language and Thought (1999)

It is a subtle distinction. I don't know if the phenomenon was the subject of discussion before Nunberg gave it a name.

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