In English in sentences like it is soon or he is fine what is the part of speech of the last word?


Your second example is the easiest to deal with - the PoS of the post-copula element is an adjective, in the predicative position. The individual-denoting subject "he" is predicated of the adjective "fine".

The first example is a little trickier - 'soon' modifies an event (you can replace the pronoun 'it' with an event-denoting DP, i.e. "the beginning is soon", or "the party is soon". 'it' can't refer to an individual, i.e. *"the rabbit is soon"). This is similar to its use as an adverb - "John will go to the party soon" - 'soon' modifies the event of John-going-to-the-party. There doesn't seem to be anything to suggest that it isn't an adverb here, since copulas don't seem to place many restrictions on the PoS of their complement.

'soon' is semantically licensed because it stands in a particular kind of relationship with the event-denoting subject. In fact, some people treat adverbs as predicates which take events as their arguments, which makes example (2) parallel to example (1). We can tentatively say that "X is Y" is licit just in case X and Y stand in an argument/predicate relationship.

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    ... and Y is not a verb. Otherwise there'd be no be. Any nonverbal predicate requires an auxiliary be to inflect for tense. As you point out, the correct tag for Y in such cases is simply "Predicate". – jlawler Aug 7 '13 at 18:53
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    I'm curious about predicative "fine," because it doesn't mean the same thing as attributive "fine." A fine (quite satisfactory) young attorney may catch the plague and not be fine (well) at all. At first blush, this may seem like simple polysemy. But why can "The woman is fine" mean "The woman is well," while a "fine woman" can't mean "a healthy or well woman"? – James Grossmann Aug 8 '13 at 20:03
  • Interesting question! So, concentrating on the following cases: (i) 'The woman is fine.' (ii) 'The fine woman.' The reading we get for (i) seems to be straightforward - (i) is true iff the woman is a member of the set of 'fine' individuals, this is an 'intersective' reading. This isn't available for (ii), rather we get a 'subsective' reading - a subset of the denotation of the nominal. There's some discussion of how to handle this in section 3 of Chris Kennedy's handbook chapter on adjectives: semantics.uchicago.edu/kennedy/docs/routledge.pdf – P Elliott Aug 9 '13 at 0:21
  • There are quite a few cases like this, but for most adjectives, both subsective AND intersective readings are available in attributive position, but only intersective readings are available in predicative position, consider: (iii) The beautiful dancer (can be subsective or intersective), (iv) the dancer is beautiful (only intersective). "Fine" is a unusual in that the intersective reading just isn't available in attributive position. Maybe we're dealing with a genuine ambiguity here, especially given that the subsective and intersective readings are fairly distant. – P Elliott Aug 9 '13 at 0:25

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