Acquisition of Quantifiers

Stephen Crain*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Explaining children's nonadult interpretations of sentences with quantifiers has been the objective of extensive research for more than 50 years. This article reviews four areas of research, each of which began with the observation that children and adults respond differently to sentences with quantifiers. The observed differences have been subject to considerable debate, often drawing upon linguistic theory for answers and sometimes resulting in changes to the theory. This article begins by discussing children's comprehension of sentences with pronouns with quantificational versus referential antecedents. The next topic is children's nonadult responses to sentences with quantifiers and negation. The third topic is children's analysis of scope phenomena. I conclude with a discussion of children's understanding of the focus adverb only, which is used to expose some common properties of historically distinct languages. Progress in each of these four areas has revealed children's deep understanding of the basic meanings of quantifiers and how quantifiers interact with other logical expressions. I conclude that children's nonadult interpretations of quantifiers are consistent with the theory of Universal Grammar.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)219-243
    Number of pages25
    JournalAnnual Review of Linguistics
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2017


    • Quantifiers
    • Universal Grammar
    • child language acquisition
    • focus adverbs
    • linguistic theory
    • logic
    • scope phenomena


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