Coercion in sentence processing: Evidence from eye-movements and self-paced reading

Matthew J. Traxler, Martin J. Pickering, Brian McElree

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Seemingly simple expressions may require an enriched form of interpretative processing. Verbs like began and finished can be used felicitously only when one of their arguments denotes an event (e.g., reading). However, such verbs commonly appear with noun phrases whose literal interpretations denote entities (e.g., the book). It has been suggested that readers and listeners have to undertake additional computations to interpret strings like began the book that are not required when the book is interpreted as an entity (e.g., Pustejovsky, 1995). If so, began the book should be harder to process than strings like read the book, when the verb does not require an argument that denotes an event, or strings like began the fight, when the argument denotes an event. Experiment 1 found evidence from eye movements showing that entity noun phrases take longer to process following verbs that require event arguments than verbs that do not. Experiments 2 and 3, using eye-tracking and self-paced reading, respectively, found that difficulty did not appear when verbs like began had arguments that referred to events. We interpret the results with respect to accounts of semantic processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-547
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Coercion
  • Semantics
  • Sentence processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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