Entailment and Presupposition

Entailment and Presupposition

by Zainurrahman



Entailments are inferences that can be drawn solely from our knowledge about the semantic relationship in a language. This knowledge allows us to communicate much more than we actually “say”.

In this pragmatics point of view, sentences are distinguished into three types: analytic sentence, contradiction, and synthetic sentence. Analytic sentence is sentence, which is true because of the meaning relationship between the subjects and predicate. Contradiction sentence is sentence, which literally contains contradictions. Synthetic sentence is sentence, which may or may not be true; the interpreted would need non-linguistics, information about the subjects the speaker is referring to.

Analytic sentence            : my mother is a woman, tiger is an animal.

Contradiction                     : my mother is a man, tiger is a reptile.

Synthetic sentence         : my mother is a doctor, the tiger is unhappy.

The truth of synthetic sentences is based on what is happening in the world, not on what is happening in the language. If the sentence is true, the sentence is synthetically true; and if not, it is synthetically false.

Further examples:

1 (a) Annie caught a trout

1 (b) Annie caught a fish

2 (a) Annie baked a cake

2 (b) Annie baked something

In each case, we can say that sentence (b) is an entailment of sentence (a). All sentences have a number of entailments. That is, other sentences which are automatically true if the original sentence is true.

There are two other types of entailment, namely one-way entailment and two-way (or mutual) entailment.  One-way entailment is the entailment that works in only one direction. Meanwhile two-way entailment is the entailment that has meaning relationship and the sentences that contain mutual entailment are paraphrases of each other.

Bear is an animal but animal is not necessarily a bear. This means that the entailment works in only one direction.

One-way entailment:

3 (a) Jenny saw a bear

3 (b) Jenny saw an animal

The front and behind have meaning relationship and the sentence can be paraphrased. If the (a) sentence is true, the sentence (b) is also necessarily true.

Two-way (or mutual) entailment:

4 (a) my mother is in front of my father

4 (b) my father is behind my mother

In every sentence, there are stress pattern, which is called foreground. The following sentences contain three different stress patterns for Annie ruined the sweater.

5 (a) Annie RUINED the sweater àAnnie did something to the sweater.

5 (b) Annie ruined the SWEATER à Annie ruined something.

5 (c) ANNIE ruined the sweater à someone ruined the sweater.



Presuppositions are inferences about what is assumed in an utterance rather than directly asserted. Presuppositions are closely linked to the words and grammatical structures that are actually used in the utterance and our knowledge about the way users conventionally interpret them. Presupposition can be draw even when there is little or no surrounding context.

Presupposition deals with the truth-value in the utterance. It is about ‘true’ and ‘false’ (not ‘yes’ and ‘no’). The truth-value is based on what is happening in the language and what is happening in the world.

These are the utterances and the presuppositions

1 (a) where has David look for the books?

1 (b) David looked for the books

2 (a) did you buy this awful wine?

2 (b) the wine is awful

3 (a) don’t sit on Annie’s sofa

3 (b) Annie has a sofa

4 (a) stop being lazy

4 (b) you are lazy

There is a basic type of presupposition, which is called existential presupposition. This presupposition mentions whether or not something is existed. This basic type of presupposition is often triggered by the words the, that, this, those, these, and other possessives.

‘The chocolate’ means that they sure that the chocolate was there. Meanwhile ‘a chocolate’ means they didn’t know if the chocolate was there

5 (a) John might find the chocolate in the kitchen

5 (b) John might find a chocolate in the kitchen

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