Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 383–410

Entertaining Alternatives: Disjunctions as Modals


DOI: 10.1007/s11050-005-2052-4

Cite this article as:
Geurts, B. Nat Lang Seman (2005) 13: 383. doi:10.1007/s11050-005-2052-4


Following Zimmermann (2000), I propose that disjunctions are to be treated as conjunctions of modal propositions, and that the essential contribution of ‘or’ is merely to present a list of alternatives. Any further ingredients in the interpretation of a disjunctive sentence (such as exhaustivity) are due to extraneous factors; they are not part of the meaning of ‘or’. My analysis differs from Zimmermann’s in that it is more general and renders the logical form of disjunctive sentences less complex, but the main innovation is that the context dependence of modality is called upon to play a leading role. The theory applies not only to disjunctions of ‘may’-sentences but also covers universal modalities and conditional disjuncts. The paper concludes with a discussion of narrow-scope ‘or’.

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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