Irony as a test of the Presupposition-Denial Account: an ERP study

Ruth Filik, Joanne Ingram*, Linda Moxey, Hartmut Leuthold

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


According to the Presupposition-Denial Account, complement set reference arises when focus is on the shortfall between the amount conveyed by a natural language quantifier and a larger, expected amount. Negative quantifiers imply a shortfall, through the denial of a presupposition, whereas positive quantifiers do not. An exception may be provided by irony. One function of irony is to highlight, through indirect negation, the shortfall between what is expected/desired, and what is observed. Thus, a positive quantifier used ironically should also lead to a shortfall and license complement set reference. Using ERPs, we examined whether reference to the complement set is more felicitous following a positive quantifier used ironically than one used non-ironically. ERPs during reading showed a smaller N400 for complement set reference following an ironic compared to a non-ironic context. The shortfall generated thorough irony is sufficient to allow focus on the complement set, supporting the Presupposition-Denial Account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1321-1335
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Early online date20 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021


  • irony
  • presupposition-denial account
  • event-related brain potentials (ERPs)
  • quantifier focus
  • pronoun resolution


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