Incomplete conditionals and the syntax-pragmatics interface

Chi-Hé Elder, Eleni Savva

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This paper is concerned with conditional thoughts that are expressed via ‘incomplete conditionals’ in which an if-clause is uttered with no corresponding main clause, and yet still succeeds at communicating a fully-fledged conditional proposition. Incomplete conditionals pose a puzzle for the semantics and pragmatics of conditionals as in one respect, a condition is expressed explicitly using the canonical form ‘if p’, yet in another, the target of the condition is left unexpressed, requiring recourse to other linguistic or extra-linguistic information for its recovery. Taking observations from attested corpora, we explore the various ways in which the consequent of an incomplete conditional can be recovered, demonstrating that cases of incompleteness range from simple cases of ellipsis which are susceptible to a syntactic solution at one end of the continuum, to pragmatically recoverable cases at the other. This involves considering aspects of meaning arising out of the co-text, including cross-sentential anaphoric dependencies and considerations of coherence, as well as extra-linguistic context such as shared sociocultural information and world knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-59
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date16 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • Incomplete conditionals
  • subsentential speech
  • fragments
  • conditional thought

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