The Romance of Modal Superlatives as Degree Descriptions

Nicoletta Loccioni


In this paper, I present a novel compositional analysis of modal predicative superlatives, that is, predicative superlatives accompanied by modal adjectives such as possible, as that in (1).

(1) Mary wanted to be the prettiest possible.

I argue that they are elliptical bona fide degree-relative clauses denoting maximal degrees and whose semantic contribution is similar to that of Measure Phrases. This account will require a novel composition of the superlative which involves the formation of an ordered set and the selection of a maximal element. I argue that not only is this account able to derive their peculiar semantics (dispensing us from the ad hoc components that previous accounts posited), but it can also capture the morphosyntax of these constructions, especially in Romance languages, which turn out more informative than English in this respect.

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