Prepositions and verb aspect in narrative understanding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study shows that prepositions and verb aspect help guide narrative comprehension by indicating the parts of motion events that are most prominent. They do this by specifying the movers' location, which determines what is most relevant to the mover's experience. In John walked past the living room into the kitchen, John is located in the kitchen, which therefore becomes more prominent than the living room, but, in John was walking past the living room to the kitchen, the living room is more prominent. Prominence was measured by seeing which part of the event was chosen as referent for a definite noun phrase in a following sentence such as He noticed the room was dark. Four experiments showed that prominence was determined more by prepositions and verb aspect than by the order of mention of the source, path, or goal rooms. The experiments show that grammatical categories that are important for conveying event structure are also critical for indicating what readers should focus on in order to construct a mental model of the scenes and events described by the narrative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-404
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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