Generics as Modals

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

8 Scopus citations


A common view of generics is that they express universal quantification over normal individuals. I argue against this approach, and provide evidence that the quantification is neither universal nor over normal individuals. Regarding universality, generics fail standard tests for universal quantification. As an alternative, I propose that generics express measures of high probability. I formalize this notion using a modal extension of first order probability logic, and demonstrate how this system can account for embedded generics and inference with generics. As for normality, I contrast it with another notion, that of uniformity: generics are evaluated with respect to worlds whose future resembles their past. Using standard substitution intensionality tests, I demonstrate that generics are evaluated with respect to uniform, rather than normal worlds. The end result is that a generic such as Birds fly does not mean "All normal birds fly"; rather, it means that the probability for a randomly chosen bird to fly is high, and this tendency is expected to continue.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Perspectives on Genericity at the Interfaces
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Vincennes
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9782842923501
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

Publication series

NameRecherches Linguistiques de Vincennes
ISSN (Print)0986-6124
ISSN (Electronic)1958-9239


  • Embedded generics
  • Generics
  • Inference
  • Metaphysical modal base
  • Modality
  • Normality
  • Probability
  • Uniform ordering source

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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