Stephanie Solt – The semantics of degree modification

Degree modifiers are expressions that combine with gradable adjectives and other scalar expressions and specify or constrain the degree to which the property in question obtains. What is intriguing about the class of degree modifiers is their number and variety within and across language, and the subtle differences in distribution and interpretation among them, which pose challenges to semantic analysis. A film might be described as sort of good, fairly good, rather good, very good or amazingly good – with differing shades of meaning – but not *slightly good.  A shirt, by contrast, might be slightly dirty but not ?downright dirty (though downright filthy is well-formed). This course discusses semantic theories of degree modification that seek to account for data such as these, and further explores what data pertaining to degree modifiers can tell us about the semantics of the expressions they compose with, and the compositional processes involved in modification more generally. Specific topics to be covered include: subclasses of degree modifiers; degree modification and scale structure; polarity sensitivity in degree modifiers; degree modification of verb and nouns; modification in languages without degree.


Beltrama, Andrea, and M. Ryan Bochnak. 2015. Intensification without degrees cross-linguistically. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 33:843–879.

Kagan, Olga, and Sascha Alexeyenko. 2011. Degree modification in Russian morphology: the case of the suffix ovat. In Proceedings of Sinn and Bedeutung 15, ed. Ingo Reich, Eva Horch, and Dennis Pauly, 321–335.Saarbrücken: Saarland University Press.

Kennedy, Christopher, and Louise McNally. 2005. Scale structure, degree modification and the semantics of gradable predicates. Language 81:345–381.

Morzycki, Marcin. 2012. Adjectival extremeness: Degree modification and contextually restricted scales. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 30:567–609.

Solt, Stephanie, and E. Cameron Wilson. 2021. M-modifiers, attenuation and polarity sensitivity. Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung, 25, 787-804.