Reporting conditionals with modals

Magdalena Sztencel, Sarah Duffy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Conditionals and modals work in tandem in some instances of practical reasoning, or decision making. Consider the following example (from Kratzer 2012):
a. I want to become a mayor.
b. (q) I will become a mayor only if (p) I go to the pub.
c. Therefore, I should go to the pub.
Given what the cogniser wants (a) and the relevant circumstances (b), the conclusion that the cogniser goes to the pub comes out as necessary. Hence, the presence of the necessity modal should in (c). Indeed, given the context of (a), the necessity modal in (c) is simply a reflection of the necessity of p for q, which is overtly represented by the use of the ‘only if p, q’ construction. This chapter looks into whether indirect reports of conditionals – in particular, indirect reports which involve the use of a modal verb – are sensitive to the necessity of p for q in cases where necessity is not overtly represented in a conditional, as in ‘if p, q’ formulations.
We report on two online experiments into the relation between (i) perceived necessity or sufficiency of the truth of a conditional antecedent for the truth of the consequent, and (ii) the formulation of an indirect report of a conditional with necessity or possibility modals (have to, should, could). In Experiment 1, the ‘necessity/sufficiency of p for q’ variable was manipulated by contextually altering the number of alternative antecedents (e.g. Cummins et al. 1991; Thompson 1994; Politzer 2003). It was found that modals used in indirect reports of ‘if p, q’ conditionals co-vary with the number of alternative antecedents in predictable ways. This suggests that modals used in indirect reports of ‘if p, q’ conditionals may be a diagnostic for biconditional versus material interpretations of conditionals. The aim of Experiment 2 was to find out whether the results of Experiment 1 could be replicated in contexts which lower/eliminate the believability of the conditionals. It was found that manipulating the believability variable has no reliable effect on the results.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIndirect Reports and Pragmatics in the World Languages
EditorsAlessandro Capone, Manuel García-Carpintero, Alessandra Falzone
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (Electronic)9783319787718
ISBN (Print)9783319787701
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NamePerspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology


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