Adjectivally headed construct states and the semantics of metonymic predication

Susan Rothstein

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4 Scopus citations


Adjectivally-headed construct states such as (i) pose a problem for thematic role assignment, and for accounts of compositional semantic interpretation.(i)ha-yeledš"the boy has black eyes"Apparently, the external thematic role of the adjective šxor, is assigned to its complement, while it is not clear what thematic role is assigned to external argument of the whole phrase. Siloni (2002) and Hazout (2000) suggest that these constructions are inalienable possession constructions: the complement noun is a noun of inalienable possession and thus relational, and its external argument becomes the argument of the whole phrase. I argue that these are indeed inalienable possession constructions, but that the crucial relation is expressed by the adjectival head and not by the nominal complement: the adjectival construct state in (i) predicates of its subject the property "being black with respect to his eyes". These constructions illustrate what I shall call "metonymic predication", in which a property is predicated of an entity x in virtue of a relation that holds between x and a proper part of x. This allows us to give a simple syntactic analysis of these expressions and a straightforward compositional semantic analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-54
Number of pages32
StatePublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
First and foremost I would like to thank my informants, and in particular Michal Drori, Henya Gal, Lior Laks and Dafna Rothstein Landman, who were incredibly patient with me over an extended period of time. Their care, attention and precision in giving judgements allowed me to come to an understanding of how this construction works. I should also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their careful readings and helpful comments. I presented earlier versions of this paper at colloquia in the Linguistics department Tel Aviv University, at Bar-Ilan University and at the University of Genève, and I would like to thank the audiences for comments and discussion, in particular, Fred Landman, Tal Siloni, Galit Weidman Sassoon and Ur Shlonsky. As usual, Fred's willingness to be a sounding board for ideas went far beyond audience participation in the colloquium, and continues to be much appreciated. This work was partially supported by Israel Science Foundation grant 851/10 to Susan Rothstein.


  • Construct states
  • Inalienable possession constructions
  • Metonymic predication
  • Semantics of adjectives


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