, Volume 192, Issue 6, pp 1729–1784 | Cite as

A uniform semantics for embedded interrogatives: an answer, not necessarily the answer

  • Benjamin SpectorEmail author
  • Paul Egré


Our paper addresses the following question: Is there a general characterization, for all predicates P that take both declarative and interrogative complements (responsive predicates in the sense of Lahiri’s 2002 typology, see Lahiri, Questions and Answers in Embedded Contexts, OUP, 2002), of the meaning of the P-interrogative clause construction in terms of the meaning of the P-declarative clause construction? On our account, if P is a responsive predicate and Q a question embedded under P, then the meaning of ‘P + Q’ is, informally, “to be in the relation expressed by P to some potential complete answer to Q”. We show that this rule allows us to derive veridical and non-veridical readings of embedded questions, depending on whether the embedding verb is veridical or not, and provide novel empirical evidence supporting the generalization. We then enrich our basic proposal to account for the presuppositions induced by the embedding verbs, as well as for the generation of intermediate exhaustive readings of embedded questions (Klinedinst and Rothschild in Semant Pragmat 4:1–23, 2011).


Questions Interrogative semantics Embedded questions  Presupposition Exhaustivity Attitude predicates Knowledge Factivity  Veridicality 



The research leading to these results has received support from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Grants ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC, ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL and ANR-14-CE30-0010-01 TriLogMean). We thank the editors of this special issue, Yacin Hamami and Floris Roelofsen, for their encouragement to submit our work, and for many helpful suggestions. We are grateful to the two reviewers of this paper for detailed and valuable comments, and in particular to Jeroen Groenendijk, whose extremely detailed and perspicuous comments contributed very significantly to the final version of our proposal. Special thanks go to Marta Abrusan, Emmanuel Chemla, Alexandre Cremers, Danny Fox, Benjamin George, Elena Guerzoni, Nathan Klinedinst, Daniel Rothschild, Savas Tsohatzidis, and to audiences at MIT (LingLunch 2007), Paris (JSM 2008), Amsterdam (2009), UCLA (2009), and the University of Maryland (2014). We also thank Melanie Bervoets, Heather Burnett, Nat Hansen and David Ripley for native speakers’ judgments in English. The research leading to these results has received support from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Grants ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC, ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL and ANR-14-CE30-0010-01 TriLogMean).

Compliance with ethical standards

This research did not involve human or animal participants. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© European Union 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean Nicod (ENS-EHSS-CNRS), École Normale Supérieure, Département d’Etudes Cognitives – PSL Research UniversityParisFrance
  2. 2.Institut Jean Nicod (ENS-EHSS-CNRS), École Normale Supérieure, Département de Philosophie – PSL Research UniversityParisFrance

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