Clefts: Quite the contrary!


  • Emilie Destruel
  • David Beaver
  • Elizabeth Coppock


Much of the previous literature on English it-clefts—sentences of the form ‘It is X that Z’— concentrates on the nature and status of the exhaustivity inference (‘nobody/nothing other than X Z’). This paper concerns the way in which it-clefts signal contrast. We argue that it-clefts signal a type of contrast that does not merely involve a salient antecedent, as on more traditional characterizations of contrast such as those of e.g. Kiss (1998) and Rooth (1992), but also involves a conflict between the speaker’s and the hearer’s beliefs, as under the characterization of contrast given by Zimmermann (2008, 2011), which we term contrariness. Results of a felicity judgment experiment suggest that clefts do have a preference for contrariness, and one which has a gradient effect on felicity judgments: the more strongly interlocutors appear committed to an apparently false notion, the better it is to repudiate them with a cleft.


How to Cite

Destruel, E., Beaver, D., & Coppock, E. (2019). Clefts: Quite the contrary!. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 21(1), 335–346. Retrieved from