In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Negation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews: Monographs and Papers
  • General Works on Theory and Description: Collections
  • Typological Studies of Sentence Negation
  • Affixal Negation: Typological and Descriptive Studies
  • Diachrony: General and Cross-Linguistic Studies
  • Diachrony and Variation
  • Semantics: Logic, Antonymy, Contradiction
  • Formal Properties: Syntax and Semantics
  • Descriptions of Individual Languages
  • Neg-Raising
  • Negative Indefinites
  • Negative Concord
  • Negative Inversion
  • Double Negation: Cancellation and Pleonasm
  • Negative Polarity: Scalarity and Downward Entailment
  • Negative Polarity: Alternative Approaches
  • Metalinguistic Negation
  • Psycholinguistics: Acquisition
  • Psycholinguistics: Processing
  • Pragmatic and Sociolinguistic Dimensions

Linguistics Negation
Laurence Horn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0032


Absent from otherwise complex systems of animal communication, negation is a sine qua non of every human language, allowing for the uniquely human capacities of denial, contradiction, misrepresentation, lying, and irony. The apparently simplex nature of logical negation as a one-place, two-valued operator toggling truth and falsity belies the profoundly complex and subtle expression of sentential and constituent negation in natural language, manifested by negative adverbs, verbs, copulas, quantifiers, and affixes and the interaction of negation with other operators (including iterations of negation itself). At the core of the mental faculty of language, negation interacts in significant ways with principles of morphology, syntax, logical form, compositional semantics, and processes of language acquisition and sentence processing, whence the prominent role played by work on negation in the recent development of theoretical and empirical linguistics.

General Overviews: Monographs and Papers

Jespersen 1917 is the classic descriptive study of the meaning and expression of negation. Klima 1964 is a landmark of early generative grammar that served as a prolegomenon for subsequent work on negation and polarity. Later comprehensive treatments include Horn 2001 and, for a rather briefer take, the negation chapter in Huddleston and Pullum 2002. Ladusaw 1996 is a useful small-scale state-of-the-art handbook on issues relating to negation and polarity in contemporary semantic theory. Horn and Wansing 2015 is a comprehensive online encyclopedia treatment of negation oriented to philosophers as well as linguists.

  • Horn, Laurence R. 2001. A natural history of negation. 2d ed. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

    Comprehensive study of philosophical, grammatical, psychological, and semantic/pragmatic aspects of negation. Chapters address the logic of negation; contradictory versus contrary opposition; the interaction of negation with quantification, presupposition, implicature, and the lexicon; psycholinguistic aspects; and metalinguistic uses of negation. The 2001 reissue contains new introductory and bibliographical addenda covering late-20th-century developments in the study of negation. Originally published in 1989 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

  • Horn, Laurence R., and Heinrich Wansing. 2015. Negation. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

    Periodically updated entry on the form, meaning, and logical properties of negation. Section §1 contains subsections on the markedness of negation, scope interactions with other operators, contrariety versus contradiction, affixal negation, double negation, negative concord, negative polarity, and neg-raising. Section §2 examines the formal logic of negation: negation as a truth function within classical and non-classical logics, as a modal operator, and as a marker of rejection, falsity, or denial.

  • Huddleston, Rodney, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316423530

    Written chiefly by Geoffrey Pullum, chapter 9, “Negation,” reviews diagnostics for negative sentences, distinctions among types of negation—verbal versus nonverbal, clausal versus subclausal, finite versus infinitival and imperative—and the distribution of negative and positive polarity items. Varieties of multiple negation (of concordial, pleonastic, and cancellation types) and the role of negation in answers to polar questions are also treated.

  • Jespersen, Otto. 1917. Negation in English and other languages. Copenhagen: A. F. Høst.

    Trailblazing, although intermittently problematic, work ranging from morphology to logic to what is now understood as pragmatics. Presciently distinguishes between nexal (sentential) and special (constituent) negation. Celebrated for its exposition of the cyclic process of successive weakening, strengthening, and reanalysis of negative elements attested in a variety of languages. Relies on a traditional (literary) approach to corpus data.

  • Klima, Edward. 1964. Negation in English. In The structure of language. Edited by Jerry A. Fodor and Jerrold Katz, 246–323. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Foundational study of negation within the generative-transformational paradigm, including a grammar fragment. Posits “neg” as sentence particle and “neg aff” for affixal negation, with placement and movement rules determining surface forms and word order. Introduces grammatical diagnostics for sentential (versus constituent) negation, notion of “inherent” negation (for rarely, doubt, etc.) and [affective] feature for expressions licensing polarity items and inversion.

  • Ladusaw, William. 1996. Negation and polarity items. In The handbook contemporary semantic theory. Edited by Shalom Lappin, 321–342. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A concise, semantically oriented overview of negation, negative concord, and negative polarity items (NPIs). Clear exposition of key questions: What constrains the class of triggers for a given NPI? Which semantic properties yield polarity sensitivity? What is the formal relation between licensor and NPI? What is the status of the ill-formedness of clauses with unlicensed NPIs?

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