Surprise-Predicates, Strong Exhaustivity and Alternative Questions

Maribel Romero


Factive emotive verbs like surprise and disappoint disallow the strongly exhaustive reading of wh-questions and do not embed alternative questions (nor polar questions) (Guerzoni & Sharvit 2007; Lahiri 1991; a.o.). This paper develops a novel account of this correlation by exploiting a property of surprise-type verbs so-far overlooked in the question literature: their focus-sensitivity. These verbs are treated as degree constructions where the comparison term –the selected type of answer to the question– must be a member of the comparison class C shaped by focus. Strongly exhaustive answers of wh-questions do not match the comparison class and are thus ruled out. Alternative questions fail to produce a suitable C both for strongly and for weakly exhaustive answers and are, hence, entirely disallowed.

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