Interpreting concealed questions


Concealed questions are determiner phrases that are naturally paraphrased as embedded questions (e.g., John knows the capital of Italy ≈ John knows what the capital of Italy is). This paper offers a novel account of the interpretation of concealed questions, which assumes that an entity-denoting expression α may be type-shifted into an expression ?z.P(α), where P is a contextually determined property, and z ranges over a contextually determined domain of individual concepts. Different resolutions of P and the domain of z yield a wide range of concealed question interpretations, some of which were not noted previously. On the other hand, principled constraints on the resolution process prevent overgeneration.


  1. Aloni, M. (2001). Quantification under conceptual covers. Ph.D. thesis, University of Amsterdam.

  2. Aloni, M. (2008). Concealed questions under cover. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 77, 191–216. Special issue on Knowledge and Questions edited by Franck Lihoreau.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Baker, C. (1968). Indirect questions in English. Ph.D. thesis, University of Illinois.

  4. Fox, D. (1999). Focus, parallelism and accommodation. In Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory IX.

  5. Frana, I. (2006). The de re analysis of concealed questions. In C. Tancredi, M. Kanazawa, I. Imani, & K. Kusumoto (Eds.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory XVI.

  6. Frana, I. (2010a). Concealed questions. In search of answers. Ph.D. thesis, UMass Amherst.

  7. Frana, I. (2010b). Copular questions and concealed questions. In M. Prinzhorn, V. Schmitt, & S. Zobel (Eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 14. Vienna: University of Vienna.

  8. Greenberg, B. (1977). A semantic account of relative clauses with embedded question interpretations. Manuscript, UCLA.

  9. Grimshaw J. (1979) Complement selection and the lexicon. Linguistic Inquiry 10: 279–326

    Google Scholar 

  10. Groenendijk, J., & Stokhof, M. (1984). Studies on the semantics of questions and the pragmatics of answers. Ph.D. thesis, University of Amsterdam.

  11. Gundel J., Hedberg N., Zacharski R. (1993) Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language 69(2): 274–307

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hamblin C.L. (1973) Questions in Montague English. Foundations of Language 10: 41–53

    Google Scholar 

  13. Harris, J. (2007). Revealing concealment: A (neuro-) logical investigation of concealed questions. MSc thesis, University of Amsterdam.

  14. Heim, I. (1979). Concealed questions. In R. Bäuerle, U. Egli, & A. von Stechow (Eds.), Semantics from different points of view. Berlin: Springer.

  15. Heim, I. (1994). Interrogative semantics and Karttunen’s semantics for know. In R. Buchalla & A. Mittwoch (Eds.), The proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of the Israel Association for Theoretical Linguistics. Jerusalem: Academon.

  16. Heim, I. (1997). Predicates or formulas? Evidence from ellipsis. In A. Lawson (Ed.), Proceedings of the seventh conference on semantic and linguistic theory (pp. 197–221). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

  17. Heim, I. (2009). Nouns as predicates of individual concepts? Handout presented at the frequently asked concealed questions workshop in Göttingen.

  18. Karttunen L. (1977a) Syntax and semantics of questions. Linguistics and Philosophy 1: 3–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Karttunen, L. (1977b). To doubt whether. The CLS book of squibs. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

  20. Nathan, L. (2006). On the interpretation of concealed questions. Ph.D. thesis, MIT.

  21. Percus, O. (2010). Uncovering the concealed question (and some shifty types). Handout presented at Semantics and Linguistic Theory XX.

  22. Roelofsen, F. (2008). Anaphora resolved. Ph.D. thesis, University of Amsterdam.

  23. Roelofsen, F., & Aloni, M. (2008). Perspectives on concealed questions. In T. Friedman & S. Ito (Eds.), Proceedings of semantics and linguistic theory XVIII. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University

  24. Romero M. (2005) Concealed questions and specificational subjects. Linguistics and Philosophy 28(5): 687–737

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Romero, M. (2007). Connectivity in a unified analysis of specificational subjects and concealed questions. In C. Barker & P. Jacobson (Eds.), Direct compositionality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  26. Romero, M. (2010). Concealed questions with quantifiers. In M. Aloni, H. Bastiaanse, T. de Jager, & K. Schulz (Eds.), Logic, Language, and Meaning: Selected and revised papers from the Amsterdam Colloquium (pp. 21–31). Berlin: Springer.

  27. Rooth, M. (1992). Ellipsis redundancy and reduction redundancy. In S. Berman & A. Hestvik (Eds.), Proceedings of the Stuttgart workshop on ellipsis.

  28. Schwager, M. (2007a). Bodyguards under cover: The status of individual concepts. In M. Gibson & T. Friedman (Eds.), Proceedings of semantics and linguistic theory XVII. Ithaca,NY:Cornell University.

  29. Schwager, M. (2007b). Keeping prices low: An answer to a concealed question. In A. Gronn (Ed.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung XII. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Download references

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Floris Roelofsen.

Additional information

Previous versions of this paper have been presented at SALT in 2008, at the Frequently Asked Concealed Questions workshop organized by Ilaria Frana, Magdalena Schwager, and Sarah Zobel in Göttingen in June 2009, at the Focus on Discourse and Context-Dependence workshop organized by Kata Balogh in Amsterdam in September 2009, during a seminar on implicit content organized by Barbara Partee in Amherst in November 2009, and at a symposium on the occasion of the PhD-defense of Radek Šimík in Groningen in February 2011. We are very grateful to the audiences at these events, and in particular to Rajesh Bhatt, Kai von Fintel, Ilaria Frana, Jeroen Groenendijk, Jesse Harris, Irene Heim, Cécile Meier, Lance Nathan, Barbara Partee, Maribel Romero, Magdalena Schwager, Matthijs Westera, and two anonymous reviewers for very useful feedback. The research reported here was made possible by financial support from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), which is gratefully acknowledged.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Aloni, M., Roelofsen, F. Interpreting concealed questions. Linguist and Philos 34, 443–478 (2011).

Download citation


  • Concealed question
  • Quantification under conceptual cover
  • Context-dependence