Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 351–383 | Cite as

Must . . . stay . . . strong!

  • Kai von Fintel
  • Anthony S. Gillies


It is a recurring matra that epistemic must creates a statement that is weaker than the corresponding flat-footed assertion: It must be raining vs. It’s raining. Contrary to classic discussions of the phenomenon such as by Karttunen, Kratzer, and Veltman, we argue that instead of having a weak semantics, must presupposes the presence of an indirect inference or deduction rather than of a direct observation. This is independent of the strength of the claim being made. Epistemic must is therefore quite similar to evidential markers of indirect evidence known from languages with rich evidential systems. We work towards a formalization of the evidential component, relying on a structured model of information states (analogous to some models used in the belief dynamics literature). We explain why in many contexts, one can perceive a lack of confidence on the part of the speaker who uses must.


Modality Epistemic Evidentiality 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, RutgersThe State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA

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