Skip to main content Accessibility help

Quantity Superlatives in Germanic, or “Life on the Fault Line Between Adjective and Determiner”

  • Elizabeth Coppock (a1)


This paper concerns the superlative forms of the words many, much, few, and little, and their equivalents in German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dalecarlian, Icelandic, and Faroese. It demon-strates that every possible relationship between definiteness marking and interpretation is attested. It also demonstrates that different kinds of agreement mismatches are found under relative and proportional readings. One consistent pattern is that under a relative interpretation, quantity superlatives with adverbial morphology show neuter singular agreement even if the target noun is plural. In contrast, under a proportional interpretation, quantity superlatives always agree in number. This evidence is taken to show that quantity superlatives are not structurally analogous to quality superlatives such as tallest on either a relative or a proportional reading; however, depending on their interpretation, quantity superlatives depart from a plain attributive structure in different ways. On relative readings, they can have a structure akin to that of pseudo-partitives (as in two liters of milk), while on proportional readings, they tend to have a quantificational structure, sometimes involving a true partitive (as in some of the children). Furthermore, I suggest that the agreement features of a quantity superlative depend on the domain from which the target is drawn (the Target-Domain Hypothesis).


Corresponding author

Boston University, Linguistics Program, 621 Commonwealth Ave, Boston MA 02215, USA []


Hide All
Åkerberg, Bengt. 2012. Älvdalsk grammatik. Ulum Dalska. Available at, accessed in June 2015.
Bentzen, Kristine, Rosenkvist, Henrik, & Johannessen, Janne Bondi (eds.). 2015. Studies in Övdalian morphology and syntax. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Bobaljik, Jonathan David. 2012. Universals in comparative morphology: Suppletion, superlatives, and the structure of words. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Broekhuis, Hans. 2013. Syntax of Dutch: Adjectives and adjective phrases. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Bumford, Dylan. 2017. Split-scope definites: Relative superlatives and haddock descriptions. Linguistics and Philosophy 40. 549593.
Coppock, Elizabeth, & Beaver, David. 2014. A superlative argument for a minimal theory of definiteness. Proceedings of SALT 24, ed. by Snider, Todd, 177196. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.
Coppock, Elizabeth, & Beaver, David. 2015. Definiteness and determinacy. Linguistics and Philosophy 38. 377435.
Coppock, Elizabeth, & Josefson, Christian. 2015. Completely bare Swedish superlatives. Sinn und Bedeutung 19, ed. by Csipak, Eva & Zeijlstra, Hedde, 179196. Göttingen: University of Göttingen.
Coppock, Elizabeth, & Kastrup, Olof. 2016. Superlativa kvantitetsord i skandinaviska språk. Poster presented at GRAMINO Grammatik i Norden held at University of Gothenburg, May 10–11, 2016.
Coppock, Elizabeth, Leffel, Tim, Scontras, Gregory, & Kotek, Hadas. 2016. Adverbial superlatives. Paper presented at the Some Institutes for Advanced Study Summer Institute Meeting held at the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC, July 18–29, 2016.
Coppock, Elizabeth, Nouri-Hosseini, Golsa, Bogal-Allbritten, Elizabeth, & Stiefeling, Saskia. 2017. Proportional implies relative: A typological universal. Proceedings of the Linguistics Society of America 2. 115.
Dobrovie-Sorin, Carmen. 2013. Most: The view from mass. Proceedings of the 19th Amsterdam Colloquium, ed. by Aloni, Maria, Franke, Michael, & Roelofsen, Floris, 99106. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.
Dobrovie-Sorin, Carmen, & Giurgea, Ion. 2015. Quantity superlatives vs. proportional quantifiers: A comparative perspective. Paper presented at the Twenty-Fifth Colloquium on Generative Grammar held at IKER, Bayonne, France, May 21–23, 2015.
Farkas, Donka, & Kiss, Katalin É.. 2000. On the comparative and absolute readings of superlatives. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 18. 417455.
Gawron, Jean Mark. 1995. Comparatives, superlatives, and resolution. Linguistics and Philosophy 18. 333380.
Gutiérrez-Rexach, Javier. 2006. Superlative quantifiers and the dynamics of contextdependence. Where semantics meets pragmatics, ed. by Heusinger, Klaus von & Turner, Ken, 237266. Oxford: Elsevier.
Hackl, Martin. 2000. Comparative quantifiers. Cambridge, MA: MIT dissertation.
Hackl, Martin. 2009. On the grammar and processing of proportional quantifiers: Most versus more than half. Natural Language Semantics 17. 6398.
Hallman, Peter. 2016. Superlatives in Syrian Arabic. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 34. 12811328.
Hankamer, Jorge, & Mikkelsen, Line. 2002. A morphological analysis of definite nouns in Danish. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 14. 127175.
Heim, Irene. 1985. Notes on comparatives and related matters. Unpublished manuscript. Semantics Archive. Available at, accessed in June 2015.
Heim, Irene. 1999. Notes on superlatives. Unpublished manuscript. MIT. Available at, accessed in June 2015.
Hoeksema, Jack. 1983. Plurality and conjunction. Studies in model theoretic semantics, ed. by ter Meulen, Alice G. B., 6384. Dordrecht: Foris.
Jackendoff, Ray. 1977. X-bar syntax: A study in phrase structure. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Kamp, Hans, & Reyle, Uwe. 1993. From discourse to logic. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Kastrup, Olof. 2016. Superlativa myckenhetspronomen i älvdalska. Gothenburg, Sweden: University of Gothenburg undergraduate thesis.
Kayne, Richard S. 2005. Some notes on comparative syntax, with special reference to English and French. Oxford handbook of comparative syntax, ed. by Cinque, Guglielmo & Kayne, Richard S., 369. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kester, Ellen Petra. 1996. The nature of adjectival inflection. Utrecht, the Netherlands: Utrecht Institute of Linguistics dissertation.
Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria. 2001. “A piece of the cake” and “a cup of tea”: Partitive and pseudo-partitive nominal constructions in the circum-baltic languages. Circum-baltic languages, vol. 2, ed. by Dahl, Östen & Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria, 523568. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Kotek, Hadas, Sudo, Yasutada, & Hackl, Martin. 2012. Many readings of most. Paper presented at the Forty-Eighth Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, April 19–21, 2012.
Krasikova, Sveta. 2011. On proportional and cardinal ‘many’. Generative Grammar in Geneva 7. 93114.
Krasikova, Sveta. 2012. Definiteness in superlatives. Logic, language and meaning, ed. by Aloni, Maria, Kimmelman, Vadim, Roelofsen, Floris, Sassoon, Galit W., Schulz, Katrin, & Westera, Matthijs, 411420. Dordrecht: Springer.
Levander, Lars. 1909. Älvdalsmålet i Dalarna: Ordböjning och syntax. Stockholm: P.A. Norstedt & Söner.
Lockwood, William Burley. 1977. An introduction to Modern Faroese. Tórshavn: Føroya Skúlabúkagrunnur.
Mitchell, Bruce. 1985. Old English syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Olhsén, Karin, & Olander, Eva. 2010. Orsaord: En orsamålsordbok. Orsa: Orsa-Skattunge Hembydsförening.
Pancheva, Roumyana. 2015. Quantity superlatives: The view from Slavic and its crosslinguistic implications. Proceedings of the Fourty-Ninth Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society, ed. by Aparicio, Helena, 120. Chicago, IL: CLS.
Pancheva, Roumyana, & Tomaszewicz, Barbara. 2012. Cross-linguistic differences in superlative movement out of nominal phrases. Proceedings of the Thirtieth West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL), ed. by Arnett, Nathan & Bennett, Ryan, 292302. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Rett, Jessica. 2008. Degree modification in natural language. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey dissertation.
Rett, Jessica. 2014. The polysemy of measurement. Lingua 143. 242266.
Roelandt, Koen. 2016a. Most or the art of compositionality. Leuven, Belgium: KU Leuven dissertation.
Roelandt, Koen. 2016b. Relative most compared. Paper presented at KrowFest held at CRISSP, KU Leuven Brussels Campus, April 1, 2016.
Rohena-Madrazo, Marcos. 2007 Superlative movement in Puerto Rican Spanish and General Spanish. NYU Working Papers in Linguistics, vol. 1, edited by Levinson, Lisa & Savescu-Ciucivara, Oana, 132. New York, NY: NYU.
Rooth, Mats. 1985. Association with focus. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts at Amherst dissertation.
Ruys, Eddy G. 2017. Two Dutch many’s and the structure of pseudo-partitives. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics 2. 133. Available at
Sapp, Christopher, & Roehrs, Dorian. 2016. Head-to-modifier reanalysis: The rise of the adjectival quantifier viel and the loss of genitive case assignment. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 28. 89166.
Schwarzschild, Roger. 2002. The grammar of measurement. Proceedings of the Twelfth Semantics and Linguistics Theory Conference (SALT), ed. by Jackson, Brendan, 225245. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Schwarzschild, Roger. 2006. The role of dimensions in the syntax of noun phrases. Syntax 9. 67110.
Selkirk, Elisabeth. 1977. Some remarks on noun phrase structure. Formal syntax, ed. by Culicover, Peter, Wasow, Thomas A., & Akmajian, Adrian, 285325. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Sharvit, Yael, & Stateva, Penka. 2002. Superlative expressions, context, and focus. Linguistics and Philosophy 25. 453505.
Solt, Stephanie. 2011. How many most’s? Sinn und Bedeutung 15, ed. by Reich, Ingo, Horsch, Eva, & Pauly, Dennis, 565580. Saarbrücken: Saarland University Press.
Solt, Stephanie. 2015. Q-adjectives and the semantics of quantity. Journal of Semantics 32. 221273.
Sommerer, Lotte. 2012. Investigating the emergence of the definite article in Old English: About categorization, gradualness and constructions. Folia Linguistica Historica 33. 175213.
Stateva, Penka. 2002. How different are different degree constructions? Storrs, CT: University of Connecticut dissertation.
Steensland, Lars. 2010. Material till en älvdalsk ordbok. Älvdalen: Ulum Dalska.
Szabolcsi, Anna. 1986. Comparative superlatives. Papers in theoretical linguistics (MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 8), ed. by Fukui, Naoki, Rapoport, Tova, & Sagey, Elizabeth, 245265. Cambridge, MA: Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT.
Szabolcsi, Anna. 2012. Compositionality without word boundaries: (The) more and (the) most. Proceedings of the Twenty Second Semantics and Linguistics Theory Conference (SALT), ed. by Chereches, Anca, Ashton, Neil, & Lutz, David, 125. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.
Teleman, Ulf. 1969. Definita och indefinita attribut i nusvenskan. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Teleman, Ulf, Hellberg, Staffan, & Andersson, Erik. 1999. Svenska akademiens grammatik [The Swedish academy grammar], vols. 1–4. Stockholm: Svenska Akademien/Norstedts.
Teodorescu, Viorica Alexandra. 2007. Attributive superlatives in Romanian. Pitar Moş: A building with a view. Papers in honor of Alexandra Cornilescu, ed. by Alboiu, Gabriela, Avram, Andrei, Avram, Larisa & Isac, Daniela, 249264. Bucharest: Bucharest University Press.
Teodorescu, Viorica Alexandra. 2009. Modification in the noun phrase: The syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of adjectives and superlatives. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin dissertation.
Wellwood, Alexis. 2014. Measuring predicates. College Park, MD: University of Maryland dissertation.
Wellwood, Alexis. 2015. On the semantics of comparison across categories. Linguistics and Philosophy 38. 67101.
Wilson, E. Cameron. 2016. Deriving the most internal reading. Sinn und Bedeutung 20, ed. by Bade, Nadine, Berzovskaya, Polina, & Schöller, Anthea, 779797. Semantics Archive: Available at, accessed in June 2015.
Wood, Jim, Sigurðsson, Halldór, & Zanuttini, Rafaella. 2015. Partitive doubling in Icelandic and Appalachian English. Proceedings of the Fourty-Fifth Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS), ed. by Bui, Thuy & Özyldiz, Deniz, 217226. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Quantity Superlatives in Germanic, or “Life on the Fault Line Between Adjective and Determiner”

  • Elizabeth Coppock (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.