Do leading questions cause the listener to accommodate the implication, or only the objective presuppositions?

Isn't Henry staying at his girlfriend's?

"Henry has a girlfriend" is a presupposition that is accommodated by the listener (as I understand it)

But because of how this question has been constructed ("Isn't...?"), it sounds like the questioner already thinks Henry is staying at his girlfriend's, and the point of the question is toe check that this is indeed the case.

My question is, does this implication count as something the listener accommodates? So is "Henry is staying at his girlfriend's" accommodated by the listener too?

What is the definition of "accommodates" in pragmatics?

  • It's a relatively new usage to use accomodate to refer to what a listener does for a presupposition. Presuppose is a verb, and both speaker and listener used to be simply described as presupposing presupposed propositions, If they didn't, it was time for a repair sequence. "Leading" is certainly not a linguistic term, so perhaps you're asking about conversation analysis instead of pragmatics?
    – jlawler
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:05
  • @jlawler I mean, "leading" is just in my question due to how I phrased it. It is true that the questioner sounds like they already think Henry is staying at his girlfriend's, but are checking that that is indeed the case. What I am asking is does this implication count as something the listener accommodates? What is the definition of "accommodates" in pragmatics?
    – minseong
    Jan 28, 2022 at 17:14
  • What I meant was that I've never seen that use of accomodate before. I can sort of see it -- it's adding a distinction between speaker-based and addressee-based presupposition analysis -- but afaik it's not been used in that way in the trade until recently, possibly. I add that just to be complete. I have no idea what the current definition of "accommodates" in pragmatics is, or even if there is one, or which schools of pragmatics use it as a group marker.
    – jlawler
    Jan 28, 2022 at 20:11
  • 2
    @jlawler It's not that new a usage, and it doesn't mean the same as "presuppose". AFAIK it was introduced in 1979 by David Lewis, "Scorekeeping in a language game" (Journal of Philosophical Logic 8)
    – TKR
    Jan 29, 2022 at 19:33
  • A pragmatic interpretation of "accommodation" would be the girlfriends place in the context of the example, where Henry is at. Accommo- if parsed as ad-quem basicly means that the recipient decides which parameters are questionable. What is a Girl-Friend? – The sentence structure can set an unambiguous focus, but restrictions on the grammar require the word choice to work out the focus. staying has a sense of continuity and necessity, and girlfriend only maybe. Here might be a five year old asking if father is coming back. Accomodation is agreeing on eg. the names, gf instead a slur.
    – vectory
    Feb 8, 2022 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


An utterance like Isn't Henry staying at his girlfriend's? presupposes, as you say, the proposition Henry has a girlfriend: its felicity depends on that proposition being part of the common ground between speaker and addressee at the time of the utterance. If that proposition isn't part of the common ground, the addressee can and normally will "accommodate" it, i.e. treat it as part of the common ground.

However, that utterance does not presuppose that the proposition I think Henry is staying at his girlfriend's is part of the common ground. It implies that this proposition is true, but not that it is expected to be presupposed or known by the addressee. Accommodation refers to treating a proposition as if it were already presupposed, so in this case there is no accommodation.

  • 2
    Ah, thank you. I wasn't familiar with Lewis's formulation. It does make sense to distinguish between speaker- and hearer-based condition.
    – jlawler
    Jan 29, 2022 at 22:08

As only a self-trained linguist, I would not classify the original question as an instance of accommodation. The question presupposes that the listener has more knowledge than the questioner, so nothing is accommodated. Accommodation occurs where the original speaker makes a reference using a grammatical structure that only makes sense if the listener were unaware of it, but could easily adapt it to their understanding of the situation without explicit introduction.

If the original question by Speaker A was: "Where is Henry staying?" Speaker B could reply: "He's staying at his girl friend's house," even if Speaker A were unaware that Henry had a girlfriend. Speaker A would be accommodating the existence of the girlfriend to process Speaker B's answer, which included a definite expression of location as if it were already part of the joint speaker-listener context. Speaker B did not have to introduce the location by saying: "He has a girlfriend and is staying at her house," but could directly refer to the girlfriend's house as if it were already a jointly known location.

If Speaker B had replied: "He's staying in the hospital down the street," there would be a discontinuity in the conversation. Speaker A would not likely expect hospitalization to be a possible answer in that speech context without some preparatory information, and the use of a definite expression of location would be anomalous. The unexpected location could not be easily accommodated by Speaker A. On the other hand, if Speaker B's reply were: "Henry was feeling quite ill, so he's staying in the hospital down the street." Speaker A could easily accommodate the existence of such a hospital into his conversational worldview, even if he were unaware of the hospital's existence until that moment. The reference to a definite location could easily be accommodated by listener A, given world knowledge of where sick people may decide to stay.

Accommodation occurs when a speaker uses a structure requiring knowledge from a listener that they do not have, but which the listener can easily accept as a given from the speaker's mere reference to it because of their joint expectation about how their discourse context normally works.

  • For the original question, do you consider "Henry has a girlfriend" to be accommodated by the listener?
    – minseong
    Jan 29, 2022 at 12:31
  • No, it is asking for confirmation of something expected to be known by the listner. Jan 29, 2022 at 12:37
  • I'd say that both Isn't Henry staying at his girlfriend's? and Henry's staying at his girlfriend's house equally presuppose the proposition Henry has a girlfriend, so they both involve accommodation.
    – TKR
    Jan 29, 2022 at 19:25

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