Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 1–31

Modal indefinites

Open Access

DOI: 10.1007/s11050-009-9048-4

Cite this article as:
Alonso-Ovalle, L. & Menéndez-Benito, P. Nat Lang Semantics (2010) 18: 1. doi:10.1007/s11050-009-9048-4


Across languages, we find indefinites that trigger modal inferences. This article contributes to a semantic typology of these items by contrasting Spanish algún with indefinites like German irgendein or Italian uno qualsiasi. While irgendein-type indefinites trigger a Free Choice effect (Kratzer and Shimoyama 2002; Chierchia 2006), algún simply signals that at least two individuals in its domain are possibilities. Additionally, algún, but not irgendein, can convey that the speaker does not know how many individuals satisfy the existential claim in the world of evaluation. We contend that the two types of indefinites impose different constraints on their domain of quantification: irgendein and its kin are domain wideners (Kratzer and Shimoyama 2002), whereas algún is an ‘anti-singleton’ indefinite (its domain cannot be restricted to a singleton). This, together with the fact that algún does not require uniqueness, allows us to derive the contrast between irgendein and algún by using the pragmatic reasoning presented by Kratzer and Shimoyama.


Indefinites Free Choice Domain widening Exhaustivity 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Hispanic Studies, McCormack 4-609University of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA
  2. 2.Seminar für Englische PhilologieUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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