The Syntax of Deverbal Compound Adjectives in English

Internal Structure and Categorial Identity

by Sebastian Wasak (Author)
Monographs 160 Pages


This volume presents research into the syntax and semantics of English deverbal compound adjectives based on the passive and active participles, e.g. pencil-drawn, action-packed, risk-taking, time-consuming. The study, couched in the current Distributed Morphology framework, uses rich linguistic data to investigate the syntactic behaviour of English participial compounds, in particular their ability to occur in typically adjectival and verbal contexts. The main claim of this work is that the verbal syntactic layers are not universally projected in the internal structure of adjectival synthetic compounds, the most important consequence of which is that linguistic formations derived from lexical verbs, even in combination with their arguments, need not be deverbal in the morphosyntactic sense.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Word Formation And Argument Structure In Distributed Morphology – A Theoretical Background
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Word formation in the lexicalist theory
  • 1.3 Distributed Morphology
  • 1.4 Word formation in Distributed Morphology
  • 1.4.1 Roots in Distributed Morphology
  • 1.4.2 How are affixes attached to roots?
  • 1.4.3 Root categorization
  • 1.5 The verbal domain in Distributed Morphology
  • 1.6 The VoiceP head
  • 1.6.1 Kratzer’s (1996) proposal
  • 1.6.2 Functions of Voice: agent, causer and instrument external arguments
  • 1.6.3 Detecting the external argument
  • By-phrases
  • Instrumental phrases
  • Agent-oriented adverbials and control into purpose clauses
  • 1.7 Compounding: a brief introduction
  • 1.7.1 Compound - the definition
  • 1.7.2 Synthetic (verbal) compounding
  • Synthetic (verbal) compound – the definition
  • Lexicalist vs. syntactic approaches to synthetic compounding
  • Competing DM approaches: Harley (2009) and Alexiadou (2017)
  • 1.8 Relevance of this study
  • Chapter 2: The Syntax Of Synthetic -En Compounds
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Adjectival vs. verbal participles
  • 2.3 Adjectival passives and argument structure – an overview of the leading approaches
  • 2.3.1 Adjectival passives as target and resultant states
  • 2.3.2 Anagnostopoulou (2003): two types of Greek participles
  • 2.3.3 Embick (2003, 2004): stative, resultative and eventive participles
  • 2.3.4 Meltzer-Asscher (2011): two types of adjectival passives in Hebrew
  • 2.3.5 Sleeman (2011): eventive adjectival passives
  • 2.3.6 Bruening (2014) and Alexiadou et al. (2014): adjectival passives license the external argument
  • 2.3.7 Adjectival passives are semantically predictable
  • 2.4 The internal semantics of synthetic -en compounds
  • 2.5 The external syntax of synthetic -en compounds
  • 2.5.1 Synthetic -en compounds as verbal passives
  • 2.5.2 Synthetic -en compounds and the external argument
  • 2.5.3 Synthetic -en compounds as adjectives: the syntactic stativity of synthetic -en compounds
  • The prenominal position
  • Copular verbs
  • Non-prefixation
  • Co-occurrence and coordination with other adjectives
  • Scale structure
  • -ness suffixation
  • 2.5.4 Interim summary
  • 2.5.5 Synthetic -en compounds as target and resultant states
  • 2.6 The internal structure of synthetic -en compounds
  • 2.7 Idiosyncratic synthetic -en compounds
  • 2.7.1 Experiencer synthetic -en compounds
  • 2.7.2 Eventive -en compounds as stative constructions
  • 2.8 Synthetic -en compounds with adverbs as modifiers
  • 2.9 Synthetic -en compounds with the pronoun self
  • 2.10 Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: The Syntax Of Synthetic -Ing Compounds
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Active participles and -ing adjectives
  • 3.3 The semantics of synthetic -ing compounds
  • 3.4 The syntax of synthetic -ing compounds
  • 3.4.1 Position in the sentence
  • 3.4.2 Eventive -ing compounds and the external argument
  • 3.4.3 Stative -ing compounds and argument structure
  • 3.5 Eventive -ing compounds as nominals
  • 3.5.1 Grimshaw (1990) and Borer (2012) – result and event nominals
  • 3.5.2 Nominal -ing compounds and argument structure - an overview of leading approaches
  • 3.5.3 The Corpus-based analysis of nominal –ing compounds
  • 3.6 Eventive -ing compounds vs. active participles
  • 3.7 Variation in semantics
  • 3.7.1 Risk-taking, rule-breaking, cost-saving and English-speaking as semantically ambiguous compounds
  • 3.7.2 Stative -ing compounds containing verbalizing morphology: the case of life- threatening
  • 3.7.3 -ing compounds referring to prior events
  • 3.8 Polish -ny/-czy compounds as equivalents of stative -ing compounds
  • 3.9 Synthetic -ing compounds based on intransitive verbs
  • 3.10 Synthetic -ing compounds based on experiencer verbs
  • 3.11 Conclusion
  • Concluding Remarks
  • References
  • Index

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In most cases, determining whether a lexical unit is used as a verb, noun or adjective presents little difficulty. It is not particularly challenging to identify lexical categories in the sentence John gave Mary a useful book. However, the matters become more complicated if we consider the word broken as used in a sentence such as the one below, extracted from the Corpus of Contemporary American English:

(1) The edges look jagged, crazed, haphazardly broken.

On the one hand, broken in the sentence above appears to be an adjective as it is selected by the copular verb look which is commonly found in front of adjectives (The hall looked empty; John looked nervous; The situation looked hopeless); on the other, it is modified by an adverbial expressing the manner in which the event of breaking took place, indicating that broken does in fact function as the passive participle of the verb break.

Words that cannot be easily classified as verbs or adjectives are found among language structures known as synthetic compounds. Consider another sentence taken from the COCA:

(2)This is pathetic, I thought, eyeing the rain-emptied street.

In (2) the compound appears attributively, a property typical of adjectives. Nevertheless, rain-emptied makes reference to an actual event: the rain causing the street to be empty.

Despite the fact that synthetic compounding continues to be a popular research topic, relatively little interest has been devoted to synthetic compounds based on participles and deverbal adjectives. The attention of language researchers has primarily been focused on deverbal nominal synthetic compounds, such as truck driver or book selling (e.g. Di Sciullo and Williams 1978; Roeper and Siegel 1978; Selkirk 1982; Lieber 1983, 1992, 2004; Grimshaw 1990; Spencer 1991, 1994; Borer 2012; Alexiadou 2017). For this reason, this research aims to more closely examine adjectival synthetic compounds in English.

The present study is dedicated to the analysis of two types of formations: English synthetic compounds based on the passive participle (e.g. student-written, pencil-drawn, home-made, action-packed) and English synthetic compounds headed by the active participle (e.g. decision-making, gift-giving, risk-taking, life-giving, ←11 | 12→time-consuming).1 The main objective of the study will be to determine whether the structure of adjectival synthetic compounds in English is headed by aP or by a layer which heads participles (that is, whether they function as adjectives or verbal participles in the sentence) and to establish whether adjectival synthetic compounds in English are syntactically derived from verbs; that is, whether their internal structure contains the vP layer.

The present analysis will be performed within the current Distributed Morphology framework, first put forward by Halle and Marantz (1993), and later adopted and developed by Harley (1995), Marantz (1997, 2007), Alexiadou (2001), and Alexiadou et al. (2015), among many others. Distributed Morphology, along with other word formation, rejects the existence of the lexicon as envisioned by the lexicalist theory (i.e. a repository of words) and posits that syntax is a single generative component responsible for the creation of both sentences and words. According to DM, all linguistic derivation begins at the root level. One of the main assumptions of DM (and crucial to this study) is that roots are unspecified for categories. Instead, roots are assigned categories upon merging with functional projections, which correspond to lexical categories (v, n, a). Importantly, DM, unlike lexicalism, does not automatically assign the category v to a root such as √GIVE, which, depending on the context, can be merged with v, n, or a:

Because the category-assigning functional heads are generated in the syntax, it is the syntactic structure into which the root is inserted which determines with which category it is merged. In other words, the ability of words to function as verbs, nouns or adjectives in the sentence depends on their syntactic properties.

Much of our discussion will revolve around the question of whether the external syntax of English adjectival synthetic compounds shows evidence for the presence of the functional projections typically found in the structures verbs and deverbal adjectives, namely vP and VoiceP (which introduces the external argument) in their syntactic representation. To answer this question, we will look into the internal semantics of English adjectival synthetic compounds and conduct a ←12 | 13→comprehensive analysis of their morphosyntactic behaviour, paying special attention to whether they tend to occur in adjectival or verbal environments.

The notions of eventivity and stativity have long been at the centre of linguistic research. In particular, the implicit presence of the external argument in deverbal constructions is a topic which has generated an enormous amount of interest and discussion among language researchers. Linguists have been particularly interested in whether the external argument is licensed by adjectival passives (Kratzer 2000; Anagnostopoulou 2003; Embick 2003, 2004; Meltzer-Asscher 2011; Gehrke 2011, 2013; Gehrke and Marco 2014; Bruening 2014; Alexiadou et al. 2014; Arche et al. 2014; Zdziebko 2017), deverbal passive potential adjectives (Oltra-Massuet 2013; Bloch-Trojnar 2017, 2019; Alexiadou 2018), middles (Rapoport 1999; Doron 2003; Schäfer 2008a; Alexiadou 2014a; Malicka-Kleparska 2017, 2018), passives based on experiencer verbs (Bondaruk and Rozwadowska 2018, 2019) and deverbal -ing and -er nominals, including nominal compounds (Alexiadou and Grimshaw 2008; Alexiadou and Schäfer 2006, 2008, 2010; Harley 2009; Bruening 2012; Borer 2012, 2013).

One of the areas we hope to shed new light on is the syntax of adjectival participles in English, a topic which has proved to be particularly challenging for linguists adopting the DM approach. Earliest approaches to the structure of deverbal adjectives (especially adjectival passives) considered them to be stative constructions, as opposed to verbal passives. More recent research has suggested that adjectival passives possess the capacity to license argument structure. By studying the relationship between adjectival participles and de-participial synthetic compounds we will be able to further address the issues concerning the internal syntax of both formations.

Much of the linguistic debate within DM has concentrated on issues connected with the relationship between semantics and syntax (the syntax-semantics interface). The extent to which semantics should influence syntax remains to be one of the unanswered questions in the linguistic discourse. The analysis of adjectival synthetic compounding shows considerable potential for disentangling issues concerned with the interplay between syntax and semantics. The majority of synthetic -en compounds can be described as describing states resulting from prior events, yet their external syntax is very much adjectival. Consider the following COCA sentences containing the compound home-made:

(4)  a.Galileo with his hand-ground glass lenses and home-made telescope showed us worlds previously beyond imagine, and it had nothing to do with money or economics.

b.She wore her green-checked flannel shirt like a jacket and under that a black top that said MAD MAX in letters that looked home-made.

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As evidenced by (4), home-made can be used both attributively and predicatively, which points to its status as an adjective. Yet in terms of internal semantics, home-made describes a feature which is a result of a prior event. Home-made, like a number of other synthetic compounds, exhibits a range of features pointing to its syntactic stativity despite the fact that its semantics is very much eventive. One of the goals of this study is to address the issue of how such syntax-semantics mismatches should be accounted for and whether, and to what extent, they have an impact on the internal structure of adjectival synthetic compounds.

This book is structured as follows: the first chapter is dedicated to the description of the Distributed Morphology framework. Firstly, we will present the main tenets of DM, explain how the model of grammar as envisioned by DM differs from the model of grammar proposed by lexicalist frameworks and discuss the mechanics of word formation in DM, with the focus laid on highlighting the main differences between what is considered by DM to be verbal and non-deverbal structures. In this chapter, we will also introduce the concept of synthetic compound and outline how the treatment of synthetic compounding has evolved over the years.

Chapter 2 is concerned with adjectival synthetic compounds based on the passive participle. Much of this chapter will be devoted to the summary of approaches to adjectival passives with a view to relating what is currently known about the syntax of adjectival passives in English to synthetic -en compounds. We will then proceed to examine the semantics and syntax of synthetic -en compounds, paying attention to whether their properties point to the licensing of complex verbal structure.

The third and final chapter deals with the syntax and semantics of English adjectival synthetic compounds headed by the active participle. As in Chapter 2, we will semantically categorize synthetic -ing compounds and use the relevant syntactic diagnostics to draw conclusions concerning their internal structure. This chapter will largely be centred on the question of which synthetic -ing compounds can function as nominals and the nature of the relationship between adjectival -ing compounds and their nominal counterparts.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
deverbal adjective compound adjective external argument passive participle inner affixation outer affixation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 160 pp., 8 tables.

Biographical notes

Sebastian Wasak (Author)

Sebastian Wasak is a research associate in the Institute of Linguistics at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. His main research interests include word formation in Distributed Morphology (in particular, argument structure in deverbal adjectives and nominalizations) as well as synthetic and nominal compounding in English.


Title: The Syntax of Deverbal Compound Adjectives in English