Common Topic

Modifiers for Modifiers (Loose and Tight Binding)

Keywords: modifiers, modifier binding

In this article we will discuss the class of modifiers that modify other modifiers. This is equivalent to words like 'very' in English. This is tied to the concept in Common of 'modifier binding' ('na heratkasyn naz keulca'), which can be 'loose' ('naz seni heratys keulca') or 'tight' ('naz canno heratys keulca') - regular modifiers have 'loose binding' and modifiers of modifiers have 'tight binding'.

The Common language has a concept of 'binding' as an intrinsic property for modifiers. There are two possible types, loose and tight. Loose binding is unmarked and is the 'normal' modifier binding. A modifier with loose binding will try to apply as broadly as possible as its position, syntax (whether it 'belongs' to a noun or a verb) and semantics allow - to the whole noun or verb phrase, sentence or sentence phrase element. In contrast, a tight binding is marked in Common. A tightly bound modifier tries to apply narrowly to the following element, moving with it if it moves in the sentence from its trace position in the noun or verb phrase.

Tightly bound modifiers must be placed immediately to the left of what they modify and must move with that element wherever it goes.

The concept of tight versus loose binding is itself a loose concept, as there are many examples attested of grey areas in meaning and usage, especially where supposedly loose modifiers are chained or tighter binding in actual usage, for example,  in cases where the order connotes shades of meaning. However, Common writers and speakers often use the distinction to help with disambiguatioin where needed, and tight versus loose modifiers are important in common idiomatic expressions. We will give a basic introduction, and then need to dive in to discuss specific cases as we encounter them.

There are both regular and irregular tight binding modifiers.


  • Are derived from loose binding modifiers
  • If those modifiers are in turn derived from terms, the tight binding derivation applies after the term-to-modifier derivation. Binding derivation always applies last.
  • Have the suffix -no.


  • May have any form
  • Carry their tight binding properly semantically in their root
  • Remain tight binding no matter what affix is applied - there is no way to derive a loose binding modifer from such irregular tight binding modifiers.

Irregular tight binding modifiers tend to be the most used tight binding modifiers. Some have clear loose-binding counterparts and date right to the beginning phase of the language - hence the putative relatedness of modifiers with irregular tight binding forms is a matter of the language's fictional pseudohistory and engineered by Davidson rather than the result of real-world language evolution. Nevertheless, NWO grammarians of Common present them together and we shall as well.

We will use as our examples the modifiers of intensity, precision and polarity, which are mostly irregular. Regular forms in the table are italicised.

Basic Irregular Tight Binding Modifiers with Loose Binding Counterparts
Meaning Gloss Tight Binding Form Loose Binding Form
Diminution a little, slightly sino sinku
Mediocritization somewhat seni N/A
Penultimization almost, nearly ilino ili
Augmentation very faj N/A
Exactitude just, exactly, right cajno cajre
Approximation about, roughly mikteno mikte
Assertion definitely, surely lano la
Negation not, un- ik ikky

The intensity set (sino, seni and faj) is common to use with modifiers of size, opinion, manner, age, shape and colour on nouns, and with modifiers of duration, frequency and manner for verbs. The precision set (cajno and mikteno) is common to use with modifiers of location and quantitty as well as size, opinion, age, shape and colour for nouns and modifiers of time, duration and frequency for verbs. The polarity set (lano and ik) can apply to practically anything. Common speakers use these words very frequently for wider contexts than their English glosses would imply, though, and often in places where English speakers might derive a new adjective or adverb using an affix like 'un-' for negation.


A seni sinku paluh se an cajno spet.
The(ABS) somewhat small dog stand(NP,IMP) be right here.

'The somewhat little dog is right here.'

In this example, note that 'spet', 'this' or 'here', is being used in the sense of 'here' and applies to the verb 'an', 'be'. In Common, spet in this context would be considered an adverbial and not a noun. Therefore, it can directly take a tight binding modifier. It is not good Common to apply a tight binding modifier to anything other than another modifier, but you may hear it in dialectical or L2 speech.

Ja faj akpe pikki teno slek a skitrem.
The(ERG) very big cat hit(P,PF) eat the(ABS) mouse.

'The very big cat had eaten the mouse.'


This article by no means gives an exhaustive list of possible tighly-binding modifiers. The suffix -no is productive, and new tight binding modifiers are derived all the time. However, this set does exhaust the list of irregular tight binding modifiers and comprises some of the most common and useful examples. The irregular tight binding modifiers are a closed class, wheras the regular forms are an open class.


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