There are certain items in some languages that tend to occur largely in negative clauses. In English, one such item might be the word ever:

  • *I have ever been to Paris.
  • I haven't ever been to Paris.

There are other items that tend to only occur in positive clauses, for example the item somewhat:

  • *He didn't smell somewhat.
  • He smelled somewhat.

The former are often referred to as Negative Polarity Items (NPI's), the latter as Positive Polarity Items (PPI's).

Many, if not most, NPI and PPI items can occur in questions:

  • Have you ever been to Paris?
  • Was he somewhat smelly?

What I'd like to know is if there is a group of items that tends to only occur in question/interrogative environments?

If there is, is there an established term for such items? Are there any lists of such items in various languages, or perhaps in English?

I can think of only one such English item which seems to behave like this, namely by any chance:

  • *He was there by any chance.
  • *He was not there by any chance.
  • He wasn't there by any chance?
  • Was he there by any chance?

One swallow, of course, doesn’t make a summer.

  • 4
    Congratulations on finding a Q-polarity expression. Parenthetical "I wonder" seems similar.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 21:12
  • Your argument that somewhat is a PPI doesn't convince me. A problem with x"He didn't smell somewhat" is that it entails "not somewhat" as a quantifier. This is not idiomatic for me, but this doesn't preclude somewhat in questions. Cf almost: x"They're not almost ready" "Are they almost ready?" [where the asker knows that they are not completely ready].
    – Rosie F
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 10:06
  • @RosieF But PPI's aren't excluded from questions (or for that matter conditional antecedents), as explicitly stated in my post! Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 12:45
  • 1
    Toying with the idea, anyway. Never thought of it. The reason why questions allow NPIs is because the nature of a question includes the possibility of negation. But it's only one possibility, so PPIs are also OK. By any chance itself contains an NPI, and it refers to that possibility.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 2:21
  • 1
    @jlawler So that's probably the same reason NPI's and PPI's occur in conditional protases too, right? There's a possibility of negation, but it's only one of the two possibilities. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 11:40


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