24.973 | Spring 2009 | Graduate

Advanced Semantics


A list of topics is given in the Course Outline below.

Course Meeting Times

Discussions: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


This course is the second of the three parts of our graduate introduction to semantics. The others are 24.970 Introduction to Semantics and 24.954 Pragmatics in Linguistic Theory. Like the other courses, this one is not meant as an overview of the field and its current developments. Our aim is to help you to develop the ability for semantic analysis, and we think that exploring a few topics in detail together with hands-on practical work is more effective than offering a bird’s-eye view of everything. Once you have gained some experience in doing semantic analysis, reading around in the many recent handbooks and in current issues of major journals and attending our seminars and colloquia will give you all you need to prosper. Because we want to focus, we need to make difficult choices as to which topics to cover.

This year, we will focus on topics having to do with modality, conditionals, tense, and aspect.


The prerequisites for this course are 24.970 Introduction to Semantics or permission of the instructor. We will presuppose the material in chapters 1-8 of Heim and Kratzer (see below), basic familiarity with predicate logic and some syntax (wh-movement, raising and control, Binding Theory).

Heim, Irene, and Angelika Kratzer. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998, pp. 1-238. ISBN: 9780631197133.

1 Truth-conditional semantics and the Fregean program 1-12
2 Executing the Fregean program 13-42
3 Semantics and syntax 43-60
4 More of English: nonverbal predicates, modifiers, definite descriptions 61-85
5 Relative clauses, variables, variable binding 86-130
6 Quantifiers: their semantic type 131-177
7 Quantification and grammar 178-208
8 Syntactic and semantic constraints on quantifier movement 209-238

If you have not completed 24.970, please talk to us before you enroll (or commit yourself to staying enrolled).

Requirements for Course Credit

Class Attendance

Attending class meetings and being on time is an obligatory component of the class. Think of this as a regularly scheduled appointment with a group of friendly people with similar interests to yours. If you cannot make it to a class meeting, courtesy requires that you give prior notification (e-mail or phone would be fine). There are, of course, acceptable excuses such as illness or family emergencies. Hangovers, disorganization, and bad time management are not acceptable reasons to miss a class meeting or to come late to class. If there’s a pattern of missing class, we will need to address the problem.

Class Participation

You are expected to participate vigorously in class discussions. When I lecture, I expect you to listen for understanding, ask questions, raise problems, answer questions, etc. When another student asks a question or raises a problem or answers a question, you should listen for understanding and be engaged in the ensuing conversation.

Reading Assignments

Required readings will be mostly from lecture notes, textbooks, handbook articles, and similar sources, plus a few original research papers. In terms of the number of pages, this will be relatively little compared to our other graduate courses in linguistics, but don’t be fooled: the material tends to be technical and therefore time-consuming. You will also have to select and read a few additional articles or book chapters on your own to write about in your term paper.

Written Homework Assignments with Presentation and Discussion

Problems will be assigned almost every week, especially in the first two-thirds of the semester. They will usually be assigned on Monday and be due on the next Monday. Late submissions will not be accepted under any circumstances (since we will discuss the problems in class).

Homework problems will usually be discussed in class shortly after they are due. You should come to these classes prepared to present and explain your answers to your classmates, and to articulate difficulties and questions that you have run into while working on them.

Collaboration on the written submissions is acceptable (and I definitely would rather correct joint submissions than duplicates). Two restrictions apply: 1) No more than 2 people should do an assignment together; 2) each collaborator has to take part in the written presentation of the joint results, and each should do some of the technical parts (writing up calculations) as well as some prose commentary; and 3) each collaborator should be prepared to discuss the entire submission in class.

Preferably, this will be a didactic exposition and critical discussion of points made in one or more publications which are not among the assigned readings, but are pertinent to the topics covered in class. This is not a summary or “book report”! Many suitable references will be provided in the handouts and lectures through the course. Appointments to discuss ideas for paper topics or your work in progress can be arranged throughout the semester and are highly encouraged.


Homework problems 20%
Short paper 80%

Course Outline


  • Displacement
  • An intensional semantics in 10 easy steps
  • Comments and complications

Propositional attitudes

  • Hintikka’s idea
  • Accessibility relations
  • A note on shortcomings


  • The quantificational theory of modality
  • Flavors of modality
  • Kratzer’s conversational backgrounds


  • The material implication analysis
  • The strict implication analysis
  • If-clauses as restrictors


  • Issues
  • The progressive
  • Quantification over times
  • The perfect

De re and de dicto

  • De re vs. de dicto as a scope ambiguity
  • Raised subjects

The third reading

  • A problem: additional readings and scope paradoxes
  • The standard solution: overt world variables
  • Alternatives to overt world variables
  • Scope, restrictors, and the syntax of movement
  • A recurring theme: historical overview

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments