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According to Oxford Learner's Dictionary(http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/cheerful), the secondary meaning of the word cheerful is: giving you a feeling of happiness:

Examples: 1) a bright, cheerful restaurant.

2) walls painted in cheerful (= light and bright) colours.

3) a chatty, cheerful letter.

All these examples are about inanimate objects. Can the meaning not be applied to a person?

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No. The secondary sense is only possible with inanimate objects, because they are incapable of feeling happy.

In theory you could describe someone as cheerful, intending to mean that she causes you to feel happy.

Anne's such a cheerful woman I am always happy to work with her.

But in practice you would always be understood to mean that she was cheerful herself—full of cheer, happy—precisely because that is the primary sense, which is specific to people.

To my ear, this is true of a letter, too: if you tell me you got a cheerful letter from your sister I would assume you meant that the letter expressed her happiness and good spirits, not that it caused your happiness and good spirits.

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  • "But in practice you would always be understood to mean that she was cheerful herself—full of cheer, happy—precisely because that is the primary sense, which is specific to people." This does not prevent her from causing you to feel happy, does it? – Makoto Kato Feb 4 '15 at 4:18
  • @MakotoKato Not at all. But it prevents you from using the word cheerful to describe that if you wish to be understood. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 4 '15 at 9:01

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