Stativity and present tense epistemics

Gillian Catriona Ramchand


Some modals are ambiguous between epistemic and circumstantial interpretations, but allow epistemic readings only when they combine with stative verb phrases. For other modals, the epistemic reading is not so constrained. I propose a theory of modal semantics that is sensitive to height of merge position and by extension the properties of the situational description that the modal combines with. To capture the pattern, modals are argued to have two important dimensions of meaning: (i) they will describe a topic situation asserted to be either an exhaustive or non-exhaustive choice over live situational alternatives; (ii) they will either anchor that topic situation indexically, or anaphorically. Modal meaning can then systematically interact with situational descriptions to build different interpretations while keeping the underlying semantics of the modal the same. Epistemic readings emerge when a modal attaches above the height at which temporal parameters of the situation are bound, circumstantials attach below the temporal specification. State-constrained epistemic modals are those that have indexical anchoring properties. 

Full Text:



Aloni, Maria. 2007. Free choice, modals, and imperatives. Natural Language Semantics 15. 65–94.

Bohnemeyer, Juergen & Mary Swift. 2004. Event realization and aspectual interpre- tation. Linguistics and Philosophy 27(3). 263–296.

Condoravdi, Cleo. 2002. Temporal interpretation of modals. modals for the present and for the past. In S. Kaufmann D. Beaver, L. Casillas & B. Clark (eds.), The Construction of Meaning, 59–87. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Copley, Bridget. 2002. The Semantics of the Future: Massachusetts Institute of Technology dissertation.

Demirdache, Hamida & Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria. 2008. Scope and anaphora with time arguments: The case of ‘perfect modals’. Lingua 118(11). 1790–1815.

Dowty, David R. 1979. Word Meaning and Montague Grammar: The Semantics of Verbs and Times in Generative Semantics and in Montague’s PTQ. Dordrecht:Reidel.

von Fintel, Kai & Anthony S. Gillies. 2010. Must...stay...strong! Natural Language Semantics 18(4). 351–383.

Greenberg, Yael. 2013. External and internal alternative-sensitive operators. In Paper presented at a workshop on "Focus Sensitive Expressions from a Cross Linguistics Perspective", Bar Ilan University, Ms., Bar Ilan University.

Hacquard, Valentine. 2006. Aspects of Modality. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology dissertation.

Hacquard, Valentine. 2007. Speaker-oriented vs. subject-oriented modals: A split in implicative behaviour, Barcelona: Unversitat Pompeu Fabra: Sinn und Bedeutung.

Hallman, Peter. 2010. Instants and intervals in the event/state distinction. Ms.,UCLA.

Hamblin, C. L. 1973. Questions in montague english. Foundations of Language 10.41–53.

Iatridou, Sabine. 2000. The grammatical ingredients of counterfactuality. Linguistic Inquiry 31(2). 231–2.

Isard, Steven. 1974. What would you have done if... Theoretical Linguistics 1. 233–255.

Kamp, Hans & Uwe Reyle. 1993. From Discourse to Logic. Dordrecht: D. Reidel. Kamp, Hans & Christian Rohrer. 1983. Temporal reference in french. Ms. University of Stuttgart.

Klein, Wolfgang. 1994. Time in Language. London and New York: Routledge.

Kratzer, Angelika. 1981. The notional category of modality. In H.J. Eikmeyer & H. Reiser (eds.), Words, Worlds and Contexts, 38–74. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Kratzer, Angelika. 2008. Modals and conditionals again (chapter 2). Online version on website, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Kratzer, Angelika & Junko Shimoyama. 2002. Indeterminate pronouns: The view from japanese. In Paper presented at the 3rd Tokyo Conference on Psycholinguistics.

Lewis, David K. 1986. On the plurality of worlds. Oxford: Blackwell.

Parsons, Terence. 1990. Events in the Semantics of English: A Study in Subatomic Semantics. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press.

Portner, Paul. 2003. The temporal semantics and modal pragmatics of the perfect. Linguistics and Philosophy 26. 459–510.

Ramchand, Gillian. 1997. Questions, polarity and alternative semantics. In Proceedings of NELS 27, 383–396. Amherst, MA: GLSA University of Massachusetts.

Ramchand, Gillian & Peter Svenonius. 2014. Deriving the functional hierarchy. In press, Language Sciences,

Ritter, E. & Martina Wiltschko. 2009. Varieties of Infl: Tense, location and per- son. In Jeroen Craenenbroeck Hans Broekhuis & Henk van Riemsdijk (eds.), Alternatives to Cartography, Mouton de Gruyter.

Rooth, Mats. 1992. A theory of focus interpretation. Natural Language Semantics 1(1). 75–116.

Rooth, Mats Edward. 1985. Association with focus: dissertation.

Stowell, Tim. 2004. Tense and modals. In J. Guéron & J. Lecarme (eds.), The Syntax of Tense and Aspect, 621–636. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Taylor, B. 1977. Tense and continuity. Linguistics and Philosophy 1.2. 199–220.

Werner, T. 2006. Future and nonfuture modal sentences. Natural Language Semantics 14(3). 235–255.