Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 305–340

Imperatives as semantic primitives

Open Access
Research Article


This paper concerns the formal semantic analysis of imperative sentences. It is argued that such an analysis cannot be deferred to the semantics of propositions, under any of the three commonly adopted strategies: the performative analysis, the sentence radical approach to propositions, and the (nondeclarative) mood-as-operator approach. Whereas the first two are conceptually problematic, the third faces empirical problems: various complex imperatives should be analysed in terms of semantic operators over simple imperatives. One particularly striking case is the Dutch pluperfect imperative. It is argued that this construction should be analysed as a genuine counterfactual imperative. On the constructive side, in the last part of the paper a formal semantic analysis of imperatives is presented, in the framework of Update Semantics. On this analysis, imperatives are sui generis semantic entities, on a par with propositions. The analysis also includes an account of the counterfactual imperatives.


Imperatives Philosophy of language Update semantics Counterfactuals Free choice 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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