From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Implicature is a technical term within pragmatics, a subdiscipline of linguistics. It was coined by H. P. Grice to refer to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance.[1] As an example, the sentence "Mary had a baby and got married" strongly suggests that Mary had the baby before the wedding, but the sentence would still be strictly true if Mary had her baby after she got married. Further, if we append the qualification "not necessarily in that order" to the original sentence, then the implicature is now cancelled even though the meaning of the original sentence is not altered.

"Implicature" is an alternative to "implication", which has additional meanings in logic and informal language.[2]


Conversational implicature[edit]

Conversational implicatures are implicatures that arise during conversation, where the speaker voluntarily flouts, or violates, one of maxims in the maxims of conversation that create an implied meaning to the addressee.[3] These conversational implicatures have many uses in creating an additional meaning to a given utterance.


"So where do you want to eat? Applebee's has a huge selection of burgers, appetizers, salads, and drinks! Everything is super affordable, too."

As seen here, this utterance flouts the maxim of quantity because of the extra amount of information given about the types of options and pricing. Giving examples about the types of options at the restaurant and mentioning their prices gives much more information than needed in reference to a name of a restaurant. Also, this example flouts the maxim of relevance because the name of a restaurant is not directly relevant to a list of food items and prices.

"Who's driving?"
"Well, my car only fits three people."

In this context, the addressee is flouting the maxim of relevance, because the question of who is driving is not directly related to the number of people that someone's car can fit. Also, the use of only is a quantity maxim that semantically flouts that there is a maximum number of people that can fit in the car; and, that the number of people present exceeds this limit.

"What items on your menu are dairy free?"
"The lobster mac and cheese."

In this example, the addressee is flouting the maxim of quality because the utterance of mac and cheese is known to not always be dairy free. Since this utterance is not true, we can conclude that the maxim of quality is being violated. [4]

A key characteristic of conversational implicature is that it is context dependent. This means that the utterance will not give rise to the implicature if said in a different context. Conversational implicatures are cancellable, meaning that the implicature may be canceled with further information or context:[5]

(a) "That cake looks delicious."
I would like a piece of that cake.
(b) "That cake looks delicious, but it looks too rich for me."

We see in example (a) the implicature underneath is created. However, with the introduction of new information in example (b), the speaker is able to cancel the conversational implicature which was arisen.

Scalar Implicature[edit]

Scalar implicatures are implicatures that have both a semantic and pragmatic use in language.[6] These types of implicatures are types of quantity maxims. Some of these implicatures include "some", "few", and "many".

The implicature itself has a meaning and social use that imply something about an object. For example:

"John ate some of the cookies."

Here, the use of some semantically implies that more than one cookie was eaten. Consequently, some pragmatically implies that not every cookie was eaten, but more than one was.

"I only need a few cupcakes for the dinner tomorrow."

Here, the use of few semantically implies that more than one cupcake is needed, while pragmatically implies that more than one BUT not many are needed for the dinner.

The use of these implicatures flout to the addressee that semantically, a nonspecific amount exists in the utterance; and, pragmatically, that the quantity is defined in a certain interval of large or small.[6]

Conventional implicature[edit]

Conventional implicature is independent of the cooperative principle and its four maxims. A statement always carries its conventional implicature.

Donovan is poor but happy.

This sentence implies poverty and happiness are not compatible but in spite of this Donovan is still happy. The conventional interpretation of the word "but" will always create the implicature of a sense of contrast. So Donovan is poor but happy will always necessarily imply "Surprisingly Donovan is happy in spite of being poor".

Implicature vs entailment[edit]

Implicature differs from entailment. Sentences with implicatures are open to interpretation because they “require contextual factors and conventions [...] observed in conversation.”[4] Entailments must follow the literal meaning of utterances and do not require context outside of a given utterance, and thus also cannot be cancelled[7].

Example of entailment:

Sentence A: “The President was assassinated”
Sentence B: “The president is dead”

If A is true, B must be true. “The President was assassinated” entails “The president is dead” No alterations can be made to the truth A without changing the truth of B.

Example of implicature:

Sentence A: “Raj was late to the wedding after he crashed his car.”
Sentence B: “Raj was late to the wedding because he crashed his car.”
Sentence C: “A week after crashing his car, Raj was late to the wedding.”

If A is true, B and/or C can be true. “Raj was late to the wedding after he crashed his car” implicates “Raj was late to the wedding because he crashed his car” but could also mean “A week after crashing his car, Raj was late to the wedding.” Neither B nor C must be true for A to be true.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blackburn 1996, p. 189.
  2. ^ Wayne, Davis (24 June 2014). "Implicature". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  3. ^ Wilson, Deirdre; Sperber, Dan. "On Grice's Theory of Conversation" (PDF).
  4. ^ a b "Conversational Implicatures" (PDF).
  5. ^ Birner, Betty J. (2013). Introduction to Pragmatics. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication. pp. 62–66.
  6. ^ a b Holtgraves, Thomas; Kraus, Brian. "Processing scalar implicatures in conversational contexts: An ERP study".
  7. ^ "ELLO". Retrieved 2018-04-09.


  • Blackburn, Simon (1996). "implicature," The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford, pp. 188–89.
  • Cole, P. (1975) "The synchronic and diachronic status of conversational implicature." In Syntax and Semantics, 3: Speech Acts (New York: Academic Press) ed. P. Cole & J. L. Morgan, pp. 257–288. ISBN 0-12-785424-X.
  • Davison, A. (1975) "Indirect speech acts and what to do with them." ibid, pp. 143–184.
  • Green, G. M. (1975) "How to get people to do things with words." ibid, pp. 107–141. New York: Academic Press
  • Grice, H. P. (1975) "Logic and conversation." ibid. Reprinted in Studies in the Way of Words, ed. H. P. Grice, pp. 22–40. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1989) ISBN 0-674-85270-2.
  • Hancher, Michael (1978) "Grice's "Implicature" and Literary Interpretation: Background and Preface" Twentieth Annual Meeting Midwest Modern Language Association
  • Kordić, Snježana (1991). "Konverzacijske implikature" [Conversational implicatures] (PDF). Suvremena lingvistika (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb. 17 (31–32): 87–96. ISSN 0586-0296. OCLC 440780341. ZDB-ID 429609-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  • Searle, John (1975) "Indirect speech acts." ibid. Reprinted in Pragmatics: A Reader, ed. S. Davis, pp. 265–277. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (1991) ISBN 0-19-505898-4.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]