I have been reading on pragmatics from Levinson, Yule, Cadzar etc. English is not my native language, though i can understand basic concepts such as maxims, implicatures and its types(generalized, particularized etc), speech acts...But i can not figure out the difference between an implicature and a presupposition. On an example like "You have to clean your room". Now, the room is dirty or uncleaned. Is this an implicature or presupposition? Can any one explain me basic differences, or lead me to sources that is exactly explaining this?

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    The term implicature is used in the phrases conversational implicature and conventional implicature. The term presupposition refers to a proposition that must be considered true by the listener in order to understand the speaker; e.g, Bill's brother is visiting presupposes that Bill has a brother. There are also the relations entailment and invited inference, among others.
    – jlawler
    Aug 16, 2022 at 14:50
  • So can we basically say for a presupposition to occur there must be a proposition, and for a proposition to occur there must be a truth condition(true/false). Accordingly in the sentence "you have to clean your room" there is no truth condition. So the sentence implies the room is dirty. But if we refound the sentence as "you are cleaning your room" then this may have a truth condition( yes, i do/no, i dont) at this case we have to presuppose the room is dirty if the proposition's condition is true? Am i on the right track here? Aug 16, 2022 at 15:54
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    All declarative sentences are translatable into propositions; so they're easy to come by. And all propositions have truth conditions -- they are either true or false. So that's not a problem either. Perhaps you need to [study some logic(websites.umich.edu/~jlawler/logicguide.pdf) before trying to study pragmatics. Most pragmatics presupposes logic.
    – jlawler
    Aug 16, 2022 at 16:42
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    TL;DR: A presupposition is something that must be true in order for the assertion to even make sense; an implicature is something conveyed between the lines. A presupposition is a logical consequence of the sentence and also its negation, whereas an implicature is merely suggested and can be defeated. Aug 17, 2022 at 13:03

2 Answers 2


The standard definition, as in the one you'll come across in introductory semantics classes, is that presuppositions have to be true, while implicatures are probably true.

For example, imagine that I come up to you and say "I need to take my cat to the vet". A presupposition of this sentence is that I have a cat; an implicature of this sentence is that my cat is sick, because that's the usual reason to take a cat to the vet.

But the implicature can be cancelled out: "I need to take my cat to the vet. She's not sick, she just needs vaccines." The presupposition can't: "I need to take my cat to the vet. I don't have a cat." That's just nonsensical.

Now, let's look at your example. "You have to clean your room, even though it's not dirty." That makes sense to me; maybe your parents just want to keep you busy for a while, or they're using it as a punishment, or you cleaned it once but not well enough for their liking. That would make it an implicature, not a presupposition.


The question is a bit like asking "What's the difference between a wardrobe and a chair" - well, they are just two different things...

A presupposition is, simply put, something that must be true in other for the assertion to even make sense. Formally, "p presupposes q" can be defined as q following logically both from p and the negation of p, while not being tautological (true no matter what). For example, whether I say "Tom has stopped playing tennis" or "Tom has not stopped playing tennis", in both cases it necessarily means that Tom used to play tennis, otherwise it doesn't make sense to say that he has or hasn't stopped. So "Tom has stopped playing tennis" presupposes that "Tom has played tennis in the past".

An implicature is a message conveyed "between the lines", something that is not said literally but implicitly suggested. For example, when someone asks me "Are Jenny, Anne and Bob coming along for the trip" and I say "Jenny and Anne said they would like to", that has the implicature that Bob will not come along or hasn't made up his mind yet, because otherwise I probably would have said so, assuming that I'm being cooperative and want to be give the information that was asked for. Still, that Bob is not coming along is not a logical implication of what I said; I could totally add something like "And Bob will too, but that was already the plan anyway" without it being contradictory.

In your example, from the negated "You do not have to clean your room" it does not at all follow that your room is dirty; so it can not be a presupposition of "You have to clean your room".

That your room is dirty does also not logically follow from your having to clean it. It is possible to tasked with doing things even if they are not really necessary; for example your parents might just want you to stick to a weekly routine.

However, saying that something has to be cleaned it often understood as a way of suggesting that it is needed because it's dirty, so one could say that it is an implicature.

  • A: "Bob's stopped playing tennis" B:"Bob hasn't stopped playing tennis. He never started played tennis in the first place." B's statement here is true, not non-sensical. There's a problem somewhere in your example or your description, methinks. Aug 20, 2022 at 12:26
  • Without the explanation added and the intonation changed, the negated sentence quite strongly suggests to me that Bob has played tennis. And I think there is fair evidence to suggest that inference in natural language, unlike classical logic, need not be monotonic, so I think it's not unreasonable to assume that the negated sentence in isolation does imply the proposition, and this inference can get cancelled by adding more information. Aug 20, 2022 at 19:30
  • But you say: "in both cases it necessarily means that Tom used to play tennis, otherwise it doesn't make sense to say that he has or hasn't stopped." And in an earlier comment: "A presupposition is a logical consequence of the sentence and also its negation, whereas an implicature is merely suggested and can be defeated" Aug 20, 2022 at 20:19

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