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Comparisons of nominal degrees


There are two fundamentally different kinds of comparison: difference comparisons and contrast comparisons. Unlike adjective phrases, noun phrases can occur in contrast comparisons (such as This bird is more a duck than a goose), but not in difference comparisons (#This bird is more a duck than that one is), where the mediation of a partitive particle is necessary (as in more of a duck). The problem is that postulating either semantic gradability or even just ad-hoc, metalinguistic, gradable interpretations for nouns in order to capture the meaning of contrast comparisons results in wrong predictions for difference comparisons and for most other gradable constructions (#very duck, #too duck, #duck enough, #the most duck). This article presents an account that exploits the psychological notion of a contrast set to explain these data and to correctly predict the truth conditions and characteristic inference patterns of contrast comparisons. Two main conclusions are, first, that if adjectives are degree expressions, so are nouns, and second, that nouns form a different type of degree expression.