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This is the first in a pair of papers that aim to provide a comprehensive analysis of the semantic phenomenon of distributivity in natural language. This paper investigates and formalizes different sources of covert distributivity. Apart from lexical distributivity effects, which are modeled by meaning postulates, phrasal distributivity is captured via two covert operators: (i) a D operator distributing over atoms only (Link 1987), and (ii) a cover-based Part operator, which can also distribute over nonatomic pluralities under contextual licensing (Schwarzschild 1996). The resulting theory surpasses accounts in which nonatomic distributivity is freely available, or not available at all; furthermore, it correctly predicts differences between lexical and phrasal nonatomic distributivity. D and Part are reformulated in Neo-Davidsonian algebraic event semantics, so that they apply to event predicates and make the sum event available for further modification by arguments and adjuncts. This paves the way for an account of the context-dependency of distributivity phenomena under for-adverbials, which improves on theories that predict indefinites to either always or never covary with for-adverbials. The paper and its companion include an explicit proposal for the compositional process in event semantics.