Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 273–297 | Cite as

Circumstantial and temporal dependence in counterfactual modals

  • Dorit Abusch


“Counterfactual” readings of might/could have were previously analyzed using metaphysical modal bases. This paper presents examples and scenarios where the assumptions of such a branching-time semantics are not met, because there are facts at the base world that preclude the complement of the modal becoming true. Additional arguments show that counterfactual readings are context dependent. These data motivate a semantics using a circumstantial (or factual) modal base, which refers to context-dependent facts about a world and time. The analysis is formulated in a version of premise semantics for modality.


Metaphysical modality Circumstantial modality Premise semantics Interactions between tense and modality Branching time Natural language semantics 


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Versions of this paper were presented at Tűbingen in June 2006, Frankfurt in June 2007, ZAS Berlin in June 2007, the 16th Amsterdam Colloquium in December 2007, at Cornell in February 2008, and at JNU, New Delhi in January 2011. The Amsterdam paper appeared as Abusch (2007). I am grateful to the audiences on those occasions for their reactions. Thanks to Anton Benz, Wylie Breckenridge, Angelika Kratzer, Manfred Krifka, Manfred Kupffer, Cécile Meier, Doris Penka, Magdalena Schwager, Arnim von Stechow, Jiwon Yun, and Ede Zimmermann for their comments and assistance. The final version benefitted greatly from the comments of a NALS reviewer. Special thanks to Mats Rooth for lots of discussion of various versions of this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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