Why premise questions?

  • Elena Castroviejo
  • Laia Mayol


This paper is concerned with the interpretation of conditional questions introduced by the wh-word why (why-conditional questions, WCQs for short). In particular, we observe that WCQs – unlike the other conditional questions – cannot be uttered out of the blue and hence have a hypothetical reading; instead, the felicitous utterance of a WCQ requires some interlocutor’s commitment to the proposition in its antecedent (p). This makes WCQs necessarily premise conditionals in the sense of Iatridou (1991); Haegeman (2003). Along with Goebel (2017), we assume that premisehood is a specific use of a regular indicative conditional sentence. We explain the premise interpretation of conditionals as a combination of their thematic nature and the discourse constraints derived from the fact that p has its own discourse history. Additionally, we derive the necessary premise interpretation of WCQs from the impossibility of entertaining the question “What happens if ¬p?”, which is necessary for the hypothetical interpretation of indicative conditionals.
How to Cite
Castroviejo, E., & Mayol, L. (2021). Why premise questions?. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 25, 205-222. https://doi.org/10.18148/sub/2021.v25i0.932