A distinction is made in formal semantics between "stage-level predicates," predicates that describe the general state of a noun, and "individual-level predicates," predicates that specify the specific properties of a noun. Fernald investigates various contexts in which this distinction is traditionally said to come into play. His aim is to show that the effects displayed are not uniform, and that the differences between the analyses proposed in the literature arise from the authors considering different subsets of data that they take to exemplify the "core" meaning of the stage/individual distinction. Fernald presents alternatives and extensions that shed light on the limitations of previous theories, as well as making original observations about important aspects of the topic, including coercion, and perceptual reports vs. other phenomena.

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