The project’s primary goal is to provide a coherent generative account of the categorial status of adjectives. Put informally, the project will attempt to answer the question of what makes a lexical item an adjective.

There are two basic ways of approaching lexical categories (nouns, verbs and adjectives). One is to consider their existence as side effects of agreement operations (Pesetsky and Torrego 2004; Pesetsky and Torrego 2005), i.e. as purely taxonomic grammar-internal labels or, worse, as mere morphological epiphenomena. A different one is to seek out and identify the semantic interpretation of each of the lexical categories.  (Langacker 1987; Wunderlich 1996; Anderson 1997; Baker 2003 — among others).

Panagiotidis (2015) offers an account for “what it means” to be a noun and a verb but remains silent on adjectives. A reason for this is that adjectives are sometimes claimed not to be universal (Dixon 1982): there are several languages reported not to have adjectives at all (Korean, Japanese and others), or to possess a closed adjective class (Hausa, Yoruba, Malayalam, Kannada and others). A second reason is that the semantic contribution of adjectives as a category is at best elusive – although most linguists are happy to go by an informal characterization of the adjective category as denoting “properties”.

This project will seek to provide a precise and detailed account of the ‘interpretive perspective’ (Panagiotidis 2015) – if any – the adjective category encodes. In order to do so, it will have to address, investigate and answer the following questions:

  • Are adjectives universal?
  • Do they belong to the same ‘ilk’ as nouns and verbs?
  • What cross-linguistic generalisations can be drawn about adjectives as a category?
  • Do they possess a functional spine of their own, what is sometimes called an Extended Projection (Grimshaw 1991)?
  • What is the role of agreement (concord, ezafe etc.) in the predicative and in the attributive functions of adjectives?


Anderson, John M. 1997. A Notional Theory of Syntactic Categories. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 82. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Baker, Mark C. 2003. Lexical Categories: Verbs, Nouns, and Adjectives. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press

Dixon, Robert M. W. 1982. Where Have All the Adjectives Gone? And Other Essays in Semantics and Syntax. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Grimshaw, Jane B. 1991. “Extended Projection.” Unpublished ms. Brandeis University.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press.

Panagiotidis, Phoevos. 2015. Categorial Features: A Generative Theory of Word Class Categories. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

David Pesetsky. 2005. “Subcategorization Phenomena and Case-Theory Effects: Some Possible Explanations.” LAGB. Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.

Pesetsky, David, and Ester Torrego. 2004. “Tense, Case and the Nature of Syntactic Categories.” In The Syntax of Time, edited by Jacqueline Guéron and Jacqueline Lecarme, 495–537. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Wunderlich, Dieter. 1996. “Lexical Categories,” Theoretical linguistics, 22 (1/2): 1–48.