Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This course will investigate the semantics of generic sentences, i.e., sentences that are used to talk about habits, tendencies, dispositions, or kinds. For instance:

  1. Dogs are good pets.
  2. The giant panda is an endangered species.
  3. A soccer player makes lots of money.
  4. Mary smokes after dinner.
  5. This machine crushes oranges.

Capturing the meaning of generic sentences turns out to be an exceedingly challenging task. In this class, we will examine some of the puzzles raised by these sentences, discuss why these puzzles are so difficult to solve, and evaluate some of the solutions that have been proposed. In order to be able to assess these proposals, we will need to introduce a fair amount of background - on modality, on the semantics of adverbial quantifiers, on the semantics of aspect. How much time we spend presenting this background will depend on the needs of the class.


  • A short squib.
  • At least two appointments with me, one next week (please email me to set up a time), one around the second week of March. The first appointment will be an opportunity for me to learn more about your background and interests. This will help me decide how much time to spend on particular topics. In the second appointment, we will discuss potential squib topics.

Course Outline

I. Preliminaries

II. Carlson 1977: Bare plurals as names for kinds

III. The quantificational analysis

Background on adverbs of quantification

Counting situations

Background on modality

Heim 1992

IV. Habituals and dispositionals