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It seems like existential linking verbs behave like determiners, in that they reference a noun, so I'm curious if there is any actual difference between these 'types' of references.

For example is there a difference in the meaning of the first statement as opposed to the second?

  1. "The angry man"

-Where 'angry' is an adjective modifying the noun 'man'.

  1. "The man is angry"

-Where 'angry' is a complement/adjective/abstract-noun

Note: I'm aware that statement one is only a noun phrase while statement two is a clause, so to be clear I'm asking if the meaning between the two is different not the structure.

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  • Can you please show two complete sentences using (1) and (2)? If (1) continues as "The angry man looks happy today" then clearly the meaning of "The angry man" isn't the same as "The man is angry". Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 9:59
  • Does this statement work or is it grammatically incorrect? "The man is angry but today he looks happy"
    – Grift
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 10:02
  • It seems that the OP is asking if there is a semantic difference between a predicative adjective and an attributive adjective. There isn't.
    – user81561
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 11:19
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    Without exact context for both usages this is a meaningless question. Either constrction could in principle carry the implication of referring to a man who is currently angry. But equally, either construction could be used to identify a person who's always or habitually angry. And all 4 combinations of construction and meaning can be used either to add information about known referent, or to uniquely identify the referent (i.e. - as opposed to other men who aren't angry). Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 12:03
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    See Attributive and Predicative Adjectives. Some adjectives can only be used in one construction (The boy was afraid, He is the main man, never The afraid boy, The man was main). But most adjectives (including angry) can be used both ways with no difference in meaning. Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 12:15

1 Answer 1

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It is best to start by examining the semantic (/ pragmatic) roles of adjectives. Those in the attributive position manifest the fullest range. A paper by Helena Kullenberg [slightly modified below] examines Warren's 1984 analysis:

[During the 1960s - 90s], there [were] sporadic attempts at accounting for functions of attributive adjectives (Eg Teyssier 1968, Bache 1978, Warren 1984a, 1984b, Halliday 1994). One of the most thorough and exhaustive studies presented so far [was] probably Warren’s Classifying Adjectives (1984a), in which it is suggested that premodifying adjectives may identify, classify or describe.

Classifiers and identifiers are claimed to differ from descriptors in that they somehow restrict the range of the head noun; the former restrict semantic range, pointing to a subcategory, and the latter restrict reference, indicating a certain referent or group of referents within the class denoted by the noun.

An example of a typical classifier is polar in

  • I saw some polar bears at the zoo, where polar indicates a subcategory within the class of bears.

An example of a typical identifier is red in

  • Give me the red book,

where red ’picks out’ the intended referent from the class of books (or rather, from a contextually determined set of books).

Descriptors, on the other hand, are seen as optional elements adding extra, nonrestrictive information.

An example of a typical descriptor is cuddly in

  • I saw some cuddly teddies,

where the adjective simply adds descriptive information about the teddies in question.

Looking at predicative usages, we see that 'That bear is polar' / 'The reaction is chemical' are not available. Classifier usages must (normally) be attributive.

'The angry man' may be either an identifier or descriptor usage.

As an identifier, it doesn't make sense to have a basic 'The man is angry.' A paraphrase using a defining relative clause such as

'The angry man is the one we suspect.' ↔ 'We suspect the man who is angry.'

is sensible.

As a descriptor,

'The angry man soon left' ↔ 'The man, who was angry, soon left' are paraphrases. And 'The man was / is angry' is available here as a simple statement of fact.

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