Abstract

The comprehension of subject-verb agreement shows “attraction effects,” which reveal that number computations can be derailed by nouns that are grammatically unlicensed to control agreement with a verb. However, previous results are mixed regarding whether attraction affects the processing of grammatical and ungrammatical sentences alike. In a large-sample eye-tracking replication of Lago et al. (2015), we support this “grammaticality asymmetry” by showing that the reading profiles associated with attraction depend on sentence grammaticality. In ungrammatical sentences, attraction affected both fixation durations and regressive eye-movements at the critical disagreeing verb. Meanwhile, both grammatical and ungrammatical sentences showed effects of the attractor noun number prior to the verb, in the first- and second-pass reading of the subject phrase. This contrast suggests that attraction effects in comprehension have at least two different sources: the first reflects verb-triggered processes that operate mainly in ungrammatical sentences. The second source reflects difficulties in the encoding of the subject phrase, which disturb comprehension in both grammatical and ungrammatical sentences.

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Author notes

Competing Interests: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For a full description of the license, please visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.