Settledness, Polarity and Mood in Spanish Complements


  • Errapel Mejías-Bikandi University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Spanish, Mood, Assertion, Settledness, Polarity


The paper discusses the effects of mood on the availability of an existential interpretation of negative words such as nadie "nobody" in the complement of emotive factive predicates in Spanish. In these contexts, the subjunctive mood allows nadie to be interpreted as a non-negated existential quantified expression, ∃x, equivalent to alguien. On the other hand, the indicative mood allows only for a negative universal interpretation of the expression, ∀x¬, or a negated existential interpretation, ¬∃x. An account of this phenomenon is proposed in terms of the notion of settledness. A proposition expressed by an indicative complement is asserted, which indicates the speaker's intention that it be settled in the context set. The proposition is grammatically settled. A proposition in the subjunctive mood is not asserted, the speaker is not indicating an intention that it be settled, it is in a grammatically unsettled state (p/¬p: a state in which p and ¬p are left undetermined). The word nadie is analyzed as denoting a quantity scale <∀, ∃>.  Within an asserted complement, the interpretation of nadie is fixed at the highest, most informative, point in the scale, ∀. On the other hand, within the grammatically unsettled complement of an affective predicate, the interpretation of nadie is not fixed at the highest point in the scale. This indeterminacy allows it to assume a value at the lowest point, ∃. It is noted that this possibility provides an expressive tool which may be used to add an emphatic hue to an utterance.


Arita, S. (2009). Tense and Settledness in Japanese Conditionals. In Pizziconi B., Kizu M. (eds.) Japanese Modality. London: Palmgrave-MacMillan.

Backer, C. (1970). Double negatives. Linguistic Inquiry I 6, 169–186.

Bosque, I. (1980). Sobre la negación [On negation]. Madrid: Cátedra.

Bosque, I. (2014). Mood: Indicative vs Subjunctive. In Hualde, Jose Ignacio, Antxon Olarrea, and Erin O'Rourke (eds.) The Handbook of Hispanic Linguistics, pp.373-394. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

De Jonge, B. (2001). Spanish subjunctive mood: One form, more than one meaning? In Reineke Bok-Bennema, Bob de Jonge, Brigitte Campers-Mahem, Arie Molendijk (eds.) Adverbial Modification, Selected Papers form the Fifth Colloquium on Romance Linguistics, Groningen, 10-12 September 1998, pp/ 79-92. Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi.

De Swart, H., and Ivan A. Sag. (2002). Negation and Negative Concord in Romance. Linguistics and Philosophy 25, 373-417.

Espinal, M.T. (1992). Expletive Negation and Logical Absorption. The Linguistic Review 9, 333-358.

Espinal, M.T. (2000a). Expletive Negation, Negative Concord and Feature Checking. CatWPL 8, 47-69.

Espinal, M.T. (2000b). On the Semantice status of n-words in Catalan and Spanish. Lingua 110, 557-580.

Fauconnier, G. (1975). Pragmatic Scales and Logical Structure. Linguistic Inquiry 6:3, 353-375.

Fauconnier, G. (1985). Mental Spaces. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Firbas, J. (1992). Functional sentence perspective in written and spoken communication. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Giannakidou, A. (1997). The Landscape of Polarity Items. Groningen, PhD dissertation.

Giannakidou, A. (2006). Only, emotive factive verbs, and the dual nature of polarity dependency. Language, 575–603.

Givon, T. (1979). On understanding Grammar. New York: Academic Press.

Greco, M. (2020). On the syntax of surprise negation sentence: A case study on expletive negation. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 38, 775-825.

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and Conversation, in P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts. New York: Academic Press, pp. 41-58.

Guitart, J. M. (1991). The pragmatics of Spanish Mood in complements of knowledge and acquisition-of-knowledge predicates, in S. Fleischman and L. R. Waugh (eds.), Discourse Pragmatics and the Verb. The Evidence from Romance, pp 179-193. New York: Routledge.

Haverkate, H. (2002). The Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics of Spanish Mood. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Herburger, E. (2001). The Negative Concord Puzzle Rrevisited. Natural Language Semantics 1, 289-333.

Hoff, M. (2019). Settledness and mood alternations: a semantic-pragmatic analysis of of Spanish futured framed adverbials. Ph.D. dissertation. Ohio State University.

Hoff, M., and Scott A. Schwenter. (2019). Settledness and morphosyntactic variation accross Romance. LSRL 49. Univeristy of Georgia.

Horn, L. H. (1989). A Natural History of Negation. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Israel, M. (1996). Polarity Sensitivity as Lexical Semantics. Linguistics and Philosophy 19:6, pp. 619-666.

Jary, M. (2002). Mood in relevance theory: a re-analysis focused on the Spanish subjunctive. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 14, pp. 157-188.

Jary, M. (2009). Relevance, assertion and possible worlds: A cognitive approach to the Spanish subjunctive. In P. De Brabanter, & M. Kissine (Eds.), Utterance interpretation and cognitive models (pp. 235-277). Emerald Group Publishing.

Jespersen, O. (1917). Negation in English and Other Languages. Copenhagen, A.F. Høst.

Karttunen, L. (1976). Discourse referents. In J. D. McCawley (Ed.). Syntax and semantics (Vol. 7). New York: Academic Press, 1976.

Kauffman, S. (2002). The presumption of Settledness. CLS 38. 313-328.

Kay, P. (1990). Even. Linguistics and Philosophy 13, 59-111.

Klein, F. (1975). Pragmatic Constraints on Distribution: the Spanish Subjunctive. Papers from the regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society XI, 353-365.

Klima, E. (1964). Negation in English, in J. Fodor and J. Katz (eds.), The Structure of Language, pp. 246-323. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

Ladusaw, W. (1979). Polarity Sensitivity as Inherent Scope Relations. PhD dissertation, Univesity of Texas.

Ladusaw, W. (1992). Expressing Negation. In C. Barker and D. Dowty (eds.), Proceedings of SALT 2, pp. 237-259. Columbus, The Ohio State University.

Ladusaw, W. (1993). Negation, Indefinites, and the Jespersen Cycle. In J. Guenter, B. Kaiser, and C. Zall (eds.), Proceedings of BLS 19, pp 437-446. Berkeley, Berkeley Linguistics Society.

Laka, I. (1990). Negation in Syntax: On the Nature of Functional Categories and Projections. Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Linebarger, M. (1987). Negative polarity and grammatical representation. Linguistics and Philosophy,10(3), 325–387.

Longobardi, G. (1987). The three systems of Romance negation. Paper presented at the X GLOW Colloquium, Workshop on Generative Dialectology. Venice.

Longobardi, G. (2017). Theory and Experiment in Parametric Minimalism: The Case of Romance Negation. Revista Lingüística 13, 108-159.

Lunn, P. (1989). Spanish Mood and the Prototype of Assertability. Linguistics 27, pp. 687-702.

Mejías-Bikandi, E. (2014). A Cognitive Account of Mood in the Complement of Causative Predicates in Spanish. Hispania 97.4, pp. 651-665.

Palmer, F.R. (2001). Mood and Modality. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Pons Barbería, S., and Scott A. Schwenter. (2005). Polar meaning and "expletive" negation in approximative adverbs; Spanish por poco (no). Journal of Historical Pragmatics 6, 262-282.

Prince, E. F. (1981). Toward a Taxonomy of Given-New Information. In Cole, Peter (ed.) Radical Pragmatics, pp 223-255. New York: Academic Press.

RAE. (2010). Nueva gramática de la lengua española. Madrid, Espasa.

Sánchez López, C. (1996). Observaciones sobre la negación expletiva en español. Español Actual 66, 25-42.

Sperber, D., and Deirdre Wilson. (1986). Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell.

Stalnaker, R. C. (1978). Assertion, in P. Cole (ed.), Syntax and Semantics, vol 9: Pragmatics, pp. 315-332. New York, Academic Press.

Suñer, M. (1995). Negative Elements, Island Effects and Resumptive No. The Linguistic Review 12, pp. 233-373.

Szabolcsi, A. (2004). Positive Polarity-Negative Polarity. Natural Language and Lingustic Theory 22, 409-452.

Terrell, T. (1976). Assertion and Presupposition in Spanish Complements. In Luján, Marta, and Fritz Hensey Current Studies in Romance Linguistics, pp. 221-245. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Terrell, T., and Joan Hooper. (1974). A Semantically Based Analysis of Mood in Spanish. Hispania 57, pp 484-94.

Wilson, D., and Dan Sperber. (2012). Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Van der Wouden, T. (1997). Negative Contexts: Collocation, Polarity and Multiple Negation. Routledge: London and New York.

Zanuttini, R. (1991). Syntactic properties of sentential negation. A comparative study of Romance languages. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Zovko Dinković, I. and Gašper Ilc. (2017). Pleonastic negation from a cross-linguistic perspective. Jezikoslovlje 18, 159-180.




How to Cite

Mejías-Bikandi, E. (2022). Settledness, Polarity and Mood in Spanish Complements. Borealis – An International Journal of Hispanic Linguistics, 11(3), 265–289.