Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 125–166 | Cite as

Commitment and states of mind with mood and modality

  • Alex Silk
Open Access


This paper develops an account of mood selection with attitude predicates in French. I start by examining the “contextual commitment” account of mood developed by Portner and Rubinstein (in: Chereches (ed) Proceedings of SALT 22, CLC Publications, Ithaca, NY, pp 461–487, 2012). A key innovation of Portner and Rubinstein’s (P&R’s) account is to treat mood selection as fundamentally depending on a relation between individuals’ attitudes and the predicate’s modal backgrounds. I raise challenges for P&R’s qualitative analysis of contextual commitment and explanations of mood selection. There are indicative-selecting predicates that are felicitous in contexts where there isn’t contextual commitment (in P&R’s sense); and there are subjunctive-selecting predicates that involve no less contextual commitment (in P&R’s sense) than certain indicative-selecting verbs. I develop an alternative account of verbal mood. The general approach, which I call a state-of-mind approach, is to analyze mood in terms of whether the formal relation between the predicate’s modal backgrounds and an overall state of mind represents a relation of commitment. Indicative mood in French presupposes that the informational-evaluative state determined by the predicate’s modal backgrounds is included in the informational-evaluative state characterizing the event described by the predicate. The account provides an improved explanation of core mood-selection puzzles, including subjunctive-selection with emotive factives, indicative-selection with fiction verbs, indicative-selection with espérer ‘hope’ versus subjunctive-selection with vouloir ‘want’, and indicative-selection with commissives versus subjunctive-selection with directives. Subjunctive-selection with modal adjectives is briefly considered. The mood-selection properties of the predicates are derived from the proposed analysis of mood, independently attested features of the predicates’ semantics, and general principles of interpretation.


Mood Mood selection Modality Events Context-sensitivity Attitude ascriptions 



Thanks to three anonymous referees, the copy-editor, and the editors for comments. This research has benefited from the support of an AHRC Early Career Research Grant (AH/N001877/1).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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