Complement set focus without explicit quantity

Joanne Ingram, Linda M. Moxey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Production and comprehension of pronominal references may vary depending on whether this is preceded by a statement including a positive or a negative natural language quantifier (NLQ). After a negative NLQ there is a preference to refer to the complement set, a set not explicitly mentioned (Moxey & Sanford, 1987). We report two experiments which examine whether a property of the NLQ, or some alternative factor is responsible for this pattern of reference. According to the Presupposition Denial Account, complement set reference arises when the shortfall between a previously expected amount and a smaller amount, denoted by an NLQ, is made salient (Moxey, 2006). Using a character's implicit desire and positive versus negative emotion words, we manipulate the prominence of the shortfall. Results from a language production task show that when there is a large difference between what a character is likely to want and the amount that can be inferred from a negative emotion word there is an increase in production of complement set references. An eye movement study shows that, if a shortfall has been made salient in this way, a reference set reference leads to disruption during reading. These results are consistent with the Presupposition Denial Account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-400
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date9 Mar 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Complement set
  • Presupposition
  • Negation
  • Shortfall
  • Pronominal reference


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