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The term presupposition (from Latin praesupponere , 'to presuppose') designates an implicit requirement in the philosophy of language and in linguistics . A presupposition is a condition that has to be fulfilled for a sentence to be judged as true or false at all. The term is defined differently: sometimes presupposition is viewed as a semantic phenomenon and sometimes as a pragmatic phenomenon; Sometimes plausibility conditions are treated as presuppositions.

A special case is the question of whether the use of proper names means an existential presupposition, i.e. In other words , whether it is always assumed that the designated object exists, and whether empty proper names (without a real object) must be understood as labels , are nonsensical, or must be placed in another reference system (in the sense of frame of reference ) .

Classic examples

The term (not already the term) was developed by Gottlob Frege in the sense of the self-evident assumption that proper names have a meaning and deepened in the analytical philosophy of language (Russell, Strawson). It has also been used in linguistics since the 1970s.

The example comes from Frege:

"Kepler died in misery".

This sentence assumes that there was a person named Kepler.

The example comes from Bertrand Russell :

"The present king of France is bald"

This sentence assumes that France currently has a king.

Differentiation from other terms

  1. The presupposition differs from the proposition and is therefore not part of the actual statement .
  2. In contrast to the logical implication , the presupposition under internal negation is constant, that is, a statement has the same presuppositions as its internal negation (see below for details).
  3. The difference between existential presuppositions and semantic implications is that this presuppositions deal with the existence of objects that occur through proper names or the like. are designated. The semantic implication only checks the statement congruence between two statements.
  4. The presupposition as a “general requirement for meaning” is differentiated from the implicature . Most presuppositions, however, are said to be “conventional implicatures”.
  5. “The presuppositions of a question sentence are identical to those of their possible answers” ​​(this also means that not only statements have presuppositions).

Semantic and pragmatic presupposition term

The theoretical definition of the presupposition is controversial. In academic terms, a distinction is made between a semantic and a pragmatic presupposition theory or a semantic and a pragmatic presupposition concept. Newer theories attempt a synthesis of the approaches.

  • The semantic, modern Peter Strawson assigned presupposition theory sees in presuppositions the conditions that must be present so that a sentence can be true or false, a sentence can be assigned a truth value (in the sense of classical logic ). A Präsuppositionsverletzung (engl. Presupposition failure ) leads to a truth value gap.
  • The pragmatic presupposition theory tries to grasp the presupposition in terms of linguistic usage. According to her, it is not a question of the truthfulness of a statement, but rather whether an utterance is appropriate to the world knowledge known to the interlocutors.

With regard to this, a distinction is made between character- bound presuppositions (as part of the semantics) and use-bound (pragmatic) presuppositions (as part of pragmatics). The latter should not be text-bound and force the addressee to "add information from their own world knowledge".

Differentiation according to Rescher

According to Nicholas Rescher , a sentence has three presuppositions: that it makes sense, that it is possible and that it is true. The sentence “Schmidt committed this crime” puts z. B. presupposes that Schmidt is even a subject capable of acting and that the act with which 'this' is referred to is actually a crime (meaning), that Schmidt was able to commit the act at all (possibility), and that he actually did it (truth).

Presupposition trigger (presupposition trigger)

Presupposition trigger (also: presupposition trigger , trigger ) are expressions that trigger presuppositions.

In German these include:

  • factual verbs : Example : The sentence “A has not forgotten that B is happening” presupposes that B is happening.
  • implicative verbs: Example : The sentence “The politician did not win the election” presupposes that the politician was a candidate.
  • Verbs of the change of state: Example : The sentence “A has stopped smoking” presupposes that A smoked before.
  • Split sentences: The sentence "It was not A who murdered B" presupposes that B was murdered.

The role of negation

Linguistically - the terminology goes back to Russell - a distinction can be made between external and internal negation. The external negation or sentence negation corresponds to the propositional negation and reverses the truth value of a sentence; in the simplest case and unambiguously, it can be expressed by adding a phrase such as “It is not the case that”. In the case of internal negation , a negation word is embedded in the sentence concerned (for example, "He is not mortal", "She is not bald"). Inner negations can, but need not, be meant in the sense of a sentence negation.

The presupposition of a sentence usually applies unchanged to its internal negation, but is canceled when it is external.

Examples of the interpretation of two negations

sentence Presupposition Meaning of the sentence
The current Queen of France is bald. France currently has exactly one queen. This queen is bald.
The current Queen of France is not bald. France currently has exactly one queen. This queen's head is hairy.
It is not the case that the current Queen of France is bald. possibly none (different interpretations are possible) France has no queen (or several queens), or France has exactly one hairy queen.


In the simplest case, a natural language propositional sentence with presuppositions can be formalized by forming the conjunction from a suitable translation of this sentence and the translations of all its presuppositions. A conceivable formalization of the sentence "It has stopped raining" would be the statement with ... "It has rained" and ... "It is raining now" (literally: "It has rained, and it is not the case that it is raining now" ).

Predicate logic analyzes provide a deeper insight; the natural language sentence "Peter's girlfriend is sick" can be formalized as follows:

The single-digit predicate stands for "_ is Peter", the single-digit predicate for "_ is sick" and the two-digit predicate for "_ 1 is the girlfriend of _ 2 ". The whole sentence then has the following meaning:

  1. There is exactly one Peter, composed of:
    1. There is at least one Peter , and:
    2. There is at most one Peter
  2. "Every Peter" (because of the above conditions the only Peter) has exactly one girlfriend, made up of:
    1. Peter has at least one friend .
    2. Peter has at most one girlfriend
  3. Each of Peter's girlfriends (based on the above conditions, his only girlfriend) is sick, literally:

Manipulative use of presupposition

By deliberately presupposing an essential statement in a question or sentence, communication can be manipulated by getting the interlocutor to confirm the presupposed fact without questioning. Such presuppositions are z. B. worked out in procedures of objective hermeneutics . See also Semper aliquid haeret .

  • Trick questions : e.g. "Do you still hit your wife?" If the presupposition does not apply to the trick question, it is not easy for the respondent to respond appropriately. This can lead to excitement, loss of control over the conversation on the part of the respondent, which can lead to a purpose e.g. B. when listening to this type of questioning.
  • Expectations can be conveyed indirectly with the help of presuppositions in order to achieve an increased effect. B. to say directly in a partnership: "I expect you to cook for us tonight." You can put this expectation into a presupposition and convey this expectation indirectly, for example, without the fact that the partner cooks at all beforehand , to thematize, asks: “What nice things are you going to cook for us tonight?” or “When will you have dinner ready tonight?”; because both questions presuppose that the partner cooks in the evening. The indirectness of conveying the expectation leads to an increase in the effect of the expression of this attitude.

In general, the tendency to unquestionably confirm presupposed facts can be explained psychologically by the fact that in communication these presupposed facts stand for what is naturally shared by the communication partners, for what connects them.


  • Hadumod Bußmann , Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft , 4th edition, Metzler, Stuttgart, 2010. ISBN 3-476-02335-4 / Presupposition (with references).
  • Andreas Dorschel , 'Anticipations. About presumptions, presuppositions and prejudices', in: International Journal of Philosophy XI (2002), No. 1, pp. 85-100. [1] (PDF; 1.7 MB)
  • Claus Ehrhardt, Hans Jürgen Heringer: Pragmatics. Fink, Paderborn 2011, pp. 46–48.
  • RM Kempson: Presupposition and the Delimitation of Semantics . Cambridge / London [u. a.] 1975.
  • A. Linke, M. Nussbaumer, P. Portmann: Study book linguistics . Tübingen 2001.
  • C.-K. Oh, DA Dinneen (Ed.): Syntax and Semantics Volume 11: Presupposition. New York / San Francisco / London 1979.
  • Heidrun Pelz: Linguistics. An introduction. , 10th edition, Verlag Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-455-10331-1 .
  • JS Petöfi, D. Franck (Ed.): Presuppositions in Philosophy and Linguistics . Linguistic research 7. Frankfurt a. M. 1973.
  • Peter von Polenz : German sentence semantics. Basic concepts of reading between the lines. Berlin 1988, pp. 298-327.
  • M. Reis: Presupposition and Syntax . Linguistic work 51. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1977.

Web links

Wiktionary: Presupposition  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. So Vater: Reference Linguistics (2005), p. 31.
  2. Father: Reference Linguistics (2005), p. 31.
  3. ^ According to father: Reference Linguistics (2005), p. 32.
  4. Father: Reference Linguistics (2005), p. 32.
  5. ^ Peter Ernst: German Linguistics. Vienna: WUV, 2008 (UTB; 2541), p. 254
  6. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (implication).
  7. Clément: Basic Linguistic Knowledge. 2nd Edition. (2000); P. 167 fn. 61.
  8. Wunderlich, Arbeitsbuch Semantik, 2nd ed. (1991), p. 352; Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (presupposition); (critical) Ernst, Pragmalinguistik (2002), p. 33
  9. Comprehensive references in Hadumod Bußmann (ed.): Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (presupposition).
  10. See Ernst, Pragmalinguistik (2002), p. 35
  11. Ernst, Pragmalinguistik (2002), p. 41 f.
  12. Nicholas Recher: Wishful thinking and other philosophical reflections , 2009, ISBN 978-3-86838-030-9 , pp. 64 ff.
  13. ^ Based on Nicholas Recher, Wishful thinking and other philosophical reflections , 2009 ISBN 978-3-86838-030-9 , p. 65.
  14. Examples based on Hadumod Bußmann (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (presupposition).
  15. Song Chol Park, Communicative Indirectness: An Examination of Its Language Theoretical Relevance as well as its Functionality and Performance. (Münster, 2000), p. 249f