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Eckhard Bick


9. Comparatives

Portuguese comparative structures are traditionally divided into three types of comparatives and two types of relative superlative:

  1. comparative of equality (tão ... como),
  2. comparative of superiority (mais ... que)
  3. comparative of inferiority (menos ... que)
  4. superlative of superiority (o mais ... de)
  5. superlative of inferiority (o menos ... de).

Syntactically, the connection between the comparative kernel and the comparandum is established by means of relational particles: - relative adverbs (como, segundo, conforme, quanto, quão) or relative determiners (quanto, qual), the subordinating conjunctions que and do_que, and the preposition de. The relative particles are used for equalitative comparisons, while que, do_que and de cover both superiority- and inferiority-comparisons, which we will here lump together under the term correlative comparisons.

In most cases these comparandum header particles need a premodifying "hook" at the comparative kernel (head [H] of the adject-ap [DA:ap] in (a)), to which they are dependency-linked. But in a few constructions direct comparisons (shaded) do occur (b). In type (a) constructions the comparandum clause (DAcom:cl) is an argument of the comparison-hook (mais/menos), in type (b) constructions it functions as a post-modifier.

As correlative hooks function the quantifying adverbs mais and menos which denote the comparative degree of Portuguese adjectives and adverbs, and as equalitative hooks the adverbs tão, tanto and the determiners tanto, tal. There are restrictions as to which hook can be combined with which relational particle, for instance mais/menos - que/do_que, tal - qual, tanto - quanto, tão - como.



Some grammarians would choose to describe what we call comparandum header, as a preposition (a') heading a pp (without a verb). Also, the comparandum might be considered a dependent not of the premodifying comparative hook, but of the comparative base, yielding a flatter constituent analysis of the adjective group in question, free of disjunct constituents:

In the few cases where comparative degree in Portuguese is expressed morphologically-synthetically rather than analytically, only a flat analysis seems viable, since there is no comparative hook to dependency-attach a comparandum to:

Of course the comparandum body needn't consist of nominal material (here, SUB<:np), but can feature a verbal constituent, too, integrating the comparandum header so as to form a finite clause (DAcom:fcl):

One could argue that the comparandum in (a) should be analysed as a finite clause, too, that is, as an elliptic finite clause with a conjunction subordinating a finite clause with a zero constituent predicator. With a flat ap-analysis, we get (a''):

Since we have vowed to avoid the complications and referential uncertainty of zero constituents wherever possible, we will not use fcl-analyses without predicators. However, there is a point in specifying function (here: S) rather than mere dependency (SUB<) with regard to the comparandum body. Consider:

(d) Parece mais cansado do que doente. (Cs)

(e) Na empresa do casal, investiu mais dinheiro do que o marido. (S)

(f) Na empresa do casal, investiu mais trabalho do que dinheiro. (Oacc)

(g) Confia tanto em Deus como na previdência social. (Opiv)

(h) Dormia mais no escritório do que em casa. (fA)

(i) Costumava exprimir-se em termos mais eruditos do que bem definidos. (DN)

In (i), if assigned function, the comparandum body is not a clause level, but a group level constituent (DN), demonstrating clearly the limits of forced fcl-analyses and zero-constituents - it doesn't make sense to add [são] to form do que [são] bem-definidos, since eruditos itself is not a Cs, but a DN.

In some cases, function tags for the comparandum body can help express ambiguity, as in (j) where one doesn't know whether the poor turkey is having lunch or being had for lunch:

(j) Come mais milho do que peru. (Oacc vs. S)

A special form of (correlative) comparative construction occurs in the fixed expression ?por mais [adj] que [v-fin(subj)]?, where an adjective functions as argument of the preposition por and is modified by a comparative hook (mais) which governs a subjunctive (!) comparandum fcl:

por mais estranho que pareça, ...

Another - more general - case, where the comparandum fcl is in the subjunctive, are relative fcl's after superlatives: "o melhor que conheça", and there are also examples of direct comparisons, without a hook, where the comparandum fcl has to be in the subjunctive:

In analytic superlative constructions, the preposition de is used as comparandum header, and the comparandum body has to be a (collective) nominal. Also, the whole comparison construction (unless functioning as postnominal to a definite noun), is preceded by a definite article.

In the case of an adjective base (a), the article must - since it is inflecting - be considered as prenominal dependent of the adjective, creating an np in the process (ela é a mais bonita de todas), rather than an adjp.

In the case of an adverb base ((b): ela trabalha o mais depressa de todas), the article doesn't inflect and could be regarded as adnominal dependent of a pronominal mais, yielding a nominal intensifier (o mais de todas):



Only rarely, in the case of comparatives with a numeral as comparandum body and a noun as comparative base, do we find both hook and comparandum to the left of the base: mais de 10 anos depois.

On clause level, ordinary direct comparisons (a) function as adverbials in much the same way as a certain type of "commenting comparison" (b):

(a) Vivem como os antigos romanos [viviam].

(b) Segundo/conforme eles [dizem], pode viajar amanhã mesmo.

In both cases, the concerning adverbial (underlined) is headed by a word of dubious word class (in bold face), which for functional reasons could be tagged as both a preposition or a conjunction, depending on the absence or presence of a verb within the adverbial constituent. Accordingly, the form category of the adverbial would change from group (pp) to clause (fcl). In order to achieve a more homogeneous description, we will choose a third path and use one (clausal) analysis for all readings of both (a) and (b), calling both como and segundo/conforme for comparative adverbs, functioning as clause subordinators (for an acl or fcl, respectively).

Last, there is some resemblance between hooked comparisons and hooked consecutive constructions:

(a) Canta tão bem como um rouxinol [canta].

(b) Canta tão bem que choram os rouxinóis.

In one analysis, the difference between the two cases is both structural and functional. The comparandum in (a) is (argument) part of a disjunct DA constituent, while the "consecutivum" (underlined) in (b) is a clause level adverbial adjunct (fA).

However, like in (a), there is still some syntactic link between tão and the subordinated clause in (b), since tão cannot be omitted:

*canta bem que choram os rouxinóis.

Also, tão bem que can be replaced by de maneira que or de modo que or tanto que, making the presumed adjunct adverbial unisolatable (from the que-clause), suggesting in stead an analysis where que choram ... is dependent part (DA/DN) of a larger group constituent (DA:ap [tão/tanto que] or DP:np [maneira/modo que):

O que acontece que choram os rouxinóis?


9-1. O filho é mais alto que o pai.
9-2. O filho é tão alto como o pai.
9-3. Não sou uma mulher como as que existem na terra.
9-4. Ele fala como ele pensa.
9-5. É tão avaro como rico.
9-6. Tinha menos dinheiro para gastar do que o seu irmão.
9-7. Bom que seja o rapaz não é nenhum santo.
9-8. Comeu tanta comida que nada sobrou para a irmã.
9-9. Ficou tal qual era antes.
9-10. Estamos nos tornando o mais pobre dos países urbanos industriais.
9-11. Por mais contraditório que pareça, o velho funcionário da VARIG não quis viajar de avião.
9-12. Na época, Londres já era uma cidade de não mais de 100.000 habitantes.
9-13. Trouxeram cerca de 10 bilhões de dólares, conforme se estima.
9-14. Foi descongelado como herói do empresariado.


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