How does the meaning of a sentence relate to the meaning of the individual words within it? This question is one of the central issues in the semantics of natural language . In the absence of any strong contextual influence, the answer must be that the meaning of a sentence is composed or derived from the meanings of the individual words within it. On this view, semantics needs to provide a description of individual lexical meanings, together with combination rules for combining words into phrases, clauses , and sentences . I

This chapter is concerned with a particular problem in compositional semantics-namely the way in which the meaning of complex noun phrases is derived from the meaning of their component words. Shoben (this volume) describes some of the intricacies involved with different forms of adjectival modification of nouns. In forming adjective-noun phrases, a wide range of mechanisms can be seen. In fact relatively few cases are simply intersective in the way that CARNIVOROUS MAMMAL is the intersection of the classes of CARNIVOROUS and MAMMALS .