Negative raising

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The phenomenon that a negation in the matrix clause of a sentence is interpreted in negating the complement clause.


The negation in the matrix clause (ia) is interpreted in negating the complement clause, which makes (ia) equivalent to (ib):

(i)	a	I don't think he'll come
	b	I think he won't come

The phenomenon owes its name to the early transformational analysis as an instance of movement (Lakoff 1970): the negation is raised out of its embedded clause to a position in the matrix clause. It is also called neg-raising. Examples of predicates that allow negative raising are believe, want, seem, suppose, likely, ought to, but not know, for instance. Negative raising has later received a pragmatic explanation. The ‘displaced’ interpretation of the negation results from a strengthening of the unlikely wide interpretation of (ia) to the more likely narrow interpretation that corresponds to (ib). See Horn (1989) for an extensive overview.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Horn, Laurence R. 1989. A Natural History of Negation, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
  • Lakoff, G. 1970. Pronominalization, negation and the analysis of adverbs, in: Jacobs, R. and P. Rosenbaum (eds.) Readings in English transformational grammar, 145-165, Ginn & Co, Waltham, MA