Contextual bounds and adjective dimensionality predict the resultative construction

This is the abstract of a TULCON14 presentation.

Cass Michael Kramer (Stanford University)

The English resultative construction (1)—a type of causative construction—has long sparked  discussion about why it disallows certain adjectives, even though they are acceptable in other  causatives (2). This presentation refines Wechsler’s prominent Maximal Endpoint Hypothesis  (MEPH; 2005) to address empirical challenges to its account of this behavior. 

(1) He hammered the metal flat/smooth/shiny/*beautiful/*safe/*tubular.  

(2) He hammered the metal, causing it to become flat/smooth/shiny/beautiful/safe/tubular.  

The MEPH states that resultatives with non-punctual verbs need a gradable adjective with a  maximally bounded scale (e.g. Kennedy & McNally 2005). The inherent scalar bound serves as  an aspectual bound for the event, providing the resultative’s requisite telicity. This restriction  doesn’t allow for resultatives with adjectives that have minimal endpoints (e.g. damp, dirty, sick)  or open scales (e.g. long, wide, hot). In response to several challenges (see Iwata 2020) based on  the occurrence of such resultatives (3), this presentation shows corpus evidence that contextual  scale bounds—rather than strictly inherent ones—also suffice to license telicity, thus allowing for  some min. endpoint and open-scale adjectives. The data also suggest that the dimensionality of an  adjective’s property scale (in the sense of Sassoon 2013) can predict the min. endpoint/open scale  adjectives that occur in resultatives, as well as the max. endpoint adjectives that do not. Both  findings support the foundation of the MEPH—resultatives require a property scale with a valid  structure and some form of maximal bound.  

(3) Jacob pulls his mouth wide with his fingers and squinches his eyes shut… (COCA)  

To examine these constructions, I collected data on 8 max. endpoint and 18 min. endpoint and  open-scale adjectives from COCA. For each sample, I counted the total number of causative  constructions (including resultatives) as a benchmark for the adjective’s use with causative events.  I then computed the ratio of resultatives out of the total causatives. Three of the 8 max. endpoint  adjectives appeared in resultatives for 70% or more of their causative uses; the rest occurred in  none, or next to none (< 3%). Ten of the 18 min. endpoint/open-scale adjectives appeared in  resultatives (>10%), albeit with lower resultative ratios than the attested max. endpoint adjectives.  

The occurrence of min. endpoint and open-scale resultatives seems to contradict the  MEPH, as these adjectives do not have inherent maximal bounds. However, adjectives are  implicitly restricted if the entity they describe has a relevant physical limitation (e.g. in (3), the  maximum width of a mouth). The corpus data reveal that min. endpoint and open-scale resultatives  are predicated of precisely such entities, showing that these contextual limits can indeed provide a  scalar bound sufficient to lend telicity to an event, allowing for a resultative.  

The study uncovered an additional pattern: the max. endpoint adjectives that do not occur  in resultatives are ‘multi-dimensional’—their values depend on several scalar properties of the  entity they describe (e.g. perfect, safe, healthy). By contrast, the min.

endpoint and open-scale  adjectives found in resultatives are uni-dimensional, only representing a single scalar property (e.g.  long, wide, crooked). This trend indicates a requirement on adjective scales implicit in the  MEPH—they must be continuous in order to derive the necessary relation between the primary  event and the property scale. Multi-dimensional adjectives do not define continuous scales, so  they cannot form this relation, and thus do not license the telicity required for a resultative.  

In summary, an adjective scale’s continuity and boundedness (inherent or contextual) are  both critical to forming a resultative, which reaffirms the intuition underlying the MEPH. 


Davies, Mark. (2008-) The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).  

Iwata, Seizi. (2020). English Resultatives: A force-recipient account. John Benjamins  Publishing Company.  

Kennedy, Christopher, and Louise McNally. (2005). “Scale Structure, Degree Modification, and  the Semantics of Gradable Predicates.” Language (81): 345–381.  

Sassoon, Galit W. (2013). “A typology of multidimensional adjectives.” Journal of Semantics (30): 335-380.  

Wechsler, Stephen. (2005). “Resultatives Under the Event-Argument Homomorphism Model of  Telicity.” In The Syntax of Aspect—Deriving Thematic and Aspectual Interpretation, ed.  Nomi Erteschik-Shir and Tova Rapoport, 255–273. Oxford University Press.