I investigate the syntax and semantics of a previously unexamined English adjective construction, exemplified by sentences like Middlemarch is a long book to assign. The construction, which I call the nominal attributive-with-infinitive construction (nominal AIC), is of interest for the semantics of gradability and modality. I argue that the major interpretive characteristic of the nominal AIC – the interpretation of inappropriateness associated with it – arises from the interaction between the positive degree operator associated with the gradable adjective and the modality of the infinitival relative clause, which contributes to the computation of the standard of comparison. Nominal AICs are compared and contrasted with a surface-identical construction I call the clausal AIC, with attributive too, and with attributive comparatives; they are shown to exhibit major syntactic and semantic differences from all of these. The paper serves both as a contribution to the semantic literature on gradability and as a contribution to the descriptive grammar of English, as it is, to the best of my knowledge, the first systematic description and analysis of the nominal AIC.
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