Our goal in this study was to behaviorally characterize the property (or properties) that render negative quantifiers more complex in processing compared to their positive counterparts (e.g. the pair few/many). We examined two sources: (i) negative polarity; (ii) entailment reversal (aka downward monotonicity). While negative polarity can be found in other pairs in language such as dimensional adjectives (e.g. the pair small/large), only in quantifiers does negative polarity also reverse the entailment pattern of the sentence. By comparing the processing traits of negative quantifiers with those of non-monotone expressions that contain negative adjectives, using a verification task and measuring reaction times, we found that negative polarity is cognitively costly, but in downward monotone quantifiers it is even more so. We therefore conclude that both negative polarity and downward monotonicity contribute to the processing complexity of negative quantifiers.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • Downward monotonicty
  • Gradable adjectives
  • Language processing
  • Negative polarity
  • Quantifiers
  • Verification

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


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