Keep 'only' strong

Luis Alonso-Ovalle, Aron Hirsch


As defined in Horn 1969, only (p) presupposes p. von Fintel & Iatridou (2007) note, however, that only (have to p) may presuppose that p is possible, rather than necessary, and propose revising the analysis of only to weaken its contribution. Building on Ippolito 2007, we show that this revision predicts interpretations which are too weak in data involving plurals and negation. A paradox thus arises: Horn’s only is too strong in some cases, but required in others. To resolve the paradox, we maintain Horn’s only, but introduce an external source of weakening that is not always available: in von Fintel and Iatridou’s modal environment, the argument of only is weakened by a covert operator (AT LEAST, Crnic ̆ 2011; Schwarz 2004) that is blocked in the problematic cases involving plurals and negation. 


Alonso-Ovalle, Luis & Aron Hirsch. 2018. Keep only strong. Ms. McGill University.

Beaver, David & Brady Clark. 2008. Sense and sensitivity: How focus determines meaning. Wiley-Blackwell.

Beaver, David & Elizabeth Coppock. 2014. Principles of the exclusive muddle. Journal of Semantics 31. 371–432.

Bosque, Ignacio. 1980. Sobre la negación. Madrid: Cátedra.

Cepeda, Paola. 2015. Word order and polarity in Spanish post nominal alguno. Talk presented at the 2015 Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sep 25.

Chierchia, G., D. Fox & B. Spector. 2012. Scalar implicature as a grammatical phenomenon. In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger & Paul Portner (eds.), Semantics: An international handbook of natural language meaning, vol. 3, 2297–2331. Mouton de Gruyter.

Crnic ̆, Luka. 2011. Getting even. Cambridge, MA: MIT dissertation.

von Fintel, Kai. 1993. Exceptive constructions. Natural Language Semantics 1(2). 123–148.

von Fintel, Kai. 1999. NPI licensing, Strawson-entailment, and context-dependency. Journal of Semantics 16(2). 97–148.

von Fintel, Kai & Sabine Iatridou. 2007. Anatomy of a modal construction. Linguistic Inquiry 38(3). 445–483.

Gajewski, Jon. 2002. L-analyticity and natural language. Ms., MIT.

Gajewski, Jon. 2008. NPI any and connected exceptive phrases. Natural Language Semantics 16(1). 69–110.

Giannakidou, Anastasia & Hedde Zeijlstra. 2017. In Martin Everaert & Henk C. van Riemsdijk (eds.), The Wiley Blackwell companion to syntax, second edition, chap. The Landscape of Negative Dependencies: Negative Concord and N-Words, 1–38. Wiley Blackwell.

Hirsch, Aron. 2016. An unexceptional semantics for expressions of exception. In University of Pennsylvania working papers in Linguistics, vol. 22 1:16,

Horn, Laurence. 1969. A presuppositional analysis of only and even. In Robert I. Binnick, Alice Davidson, Georgia M. Green & Jerry L. Morgan (eds.), Papers form the fifth regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society, 98–107. Chicago: University of Chicago, Chicago Linguistics Society.

Ippolito, Michela. 2007. On the meaning of only. Journal of Semantics 25. 45–91.

Katzir, Roni. 2007. Structurally-defined alternatives. Linguistics and Philosophy 30(6). 669–690.

Klima, Edward. 1964. Negation in English. In J.A. Fodor & J.J. Katz (eds.),The structure of language: Readings in the philosophy of language, 246–323. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Laka, Itziar. 1990. Negation in syntax: On the nature of functional categories and projections. Cambridge, MA: MIT dissertation.

Link, Godehard. 1983. The logical analysis of plural and mass terms: a lattice- theoretical approach. In C. Schwarze R. Bäuerle & A. von Stechow (eds.), Meaning, use and interpretation of language, 302–323. de Gruyter.

López, Cristina Sánchez. 2000. La negación. In Ignacio Bosque & Violeta Demonte (eds.), Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española, vol. 2, 2561–2634. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe.

Schwarz, Bernhard. 2004. Scalar additive particles in negative contexts. Natural Language Semantics 13. 125–168.

Zeijlstra, Hedde. 2016. Negation and negative dependencies. Annual Review of Linguistics 2. 233–254.


Copyright (c) 2018 Luis Alonso-Ovalle, Aron Hirsch