Glossary of Linguistic Terms

Presupposition Trigger


A presupposition trigger is a construction or item that signals the existence of a presupposition in an utterance.



Both positive and negative forms are presented, showing that the presuppositions are constant under negation:

  • Definite descriptions
    • In John saw/didn't see the man with two heads, the definite description the man with two heads triggers the presupposition "There exists a man with two heads." (The unbelievability of the presupposition is what makes the positive utterance unbelievable and the negative one odd.)
  • Factive verbs
    • In John realized/didn't realize that he was in debt, both realize and didn't realize that trigger the presupposition "John was in debt."
    • Other factives are:
      • (it) be odd that
      • be sorry/proud/indifferent/glad/sad that
      • know that, and
      • regret that.
  • Implicative verbs
    • In ​John managed/didn't manage to open the door, both managed/didn't manage to trigger the presupposition "tried to," as in "John tried to open the door."
    • Other implicative verbs are
      • avoided (X-ing), which presupposes "was expected to"
      • forgot to, which presupposes "ought to have"
      • happened to, which presupposes "didn’t plan/intend to," and
      • intended to.
  • Change of state verbs
    • In Kissinger continued/didn’t continue to rule the world, both continued/didn’t continue to trigger the presupposition "had been," as in "Kissinger had been ruling the world."
    • Other change of state verbs are
      • arrive
      • begin
      • come
      • enter
      • go
      • leave
      • stop, and
      • take (X from Y), which presupposes "X was at/in/with Y."
  • Expressions of repetition
    • In Carter returned/didn’t return to power, both returned/didn’t return trigger the presupposition "Carter held power before."
    • Other such expressions are
      • again
      • another time
      • anymore
      • come back
      • repeat, and
      • restore.
  • Expressions of temporal relations
    • In while Chomsky was revolutionizing linguistics, the rest of social science was/wasn’t asleep, the clause introduced by while triggers the presupposition "Chomsky was revolutionizing linguistics."
    • Other such conjunctions triggering presuppositions are
      • after
      • as
      • before
      • during
      • since, and
      • whenever.
  • Cleft sentences
    • In it was/wasn’t Henry that kissed Rosie, the cleft structure triggers the presupposition "someone kissed Rosie."
    • The pseudocleft structure in what John lost was his wallet triggers the presupposition "John lost something."
  • Stressed constituents
    • In John did/didn’t compete in the OLYMPICS, the stressed constituent triggers the presupposition "John did compete somewhere."
  • Returned actions
    • In Adolph called Marianne a Valkyrie, and she complimented him back/in return, too, both back/in return, too trigger the presupposition "to call Marianne a Valkyrie is to compliment her."
  • Comparisons
    • In Carol is/isn’t a better linguist than Barbara, the comparison triggers the presupposition "Barbara is a linguist."
  • Counterfactual conditions
    • In if the notice had only said ‘mine-field’ in English as well as Welsh, we would/would never have lost poor Llewellyn, the form of the condition triggers the presupposition "The notice didn’t say mine-field in English."
  • Questions
    • Questions presenting alternatives tend to trigger a presupposition of the truth of one of the alternatives. The utterance is Newcastle in England or in Australia? triggers the presupposition "Newcastle is either in England or in Australia."
    • Questions containing interrogative pro-forms tend to trigger a corresponding presupposition containing an indefinite pro-form. The utterance who is the professor of linguistics at MIT? triggers the presupposition "someone is the professor of linguistics at MIT."

Glossary Hierarchy