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On the semantics of too and only: Distinctness and subsumption

Shai Cohen, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is about the two related notions of subsumption and distinctness and the roles they play in the semantics of the particles only and too, respectively. In chapter 2 I formulate the distinctness requirement introduced by too in terms of the distinctness relation, which is taken to be a relation between sets of events. The chapter examines the nature of the distinctness requirement and, by doing so, the semantic nature of too. Two issues are discussed: (1) In which sense is too focussensitive? (2) Is the distinctness requirement a presupposition? I provide some evidence that too is conventionally associated with focus, in the sense of Beaver and Clark (2008), and that it is a presupposition trigger, in the sense of Heim (1983, 1992). I then formulate, building on Heim (1983, 1992) and others, a dynamic account of too as a presupposition trigger. Chapter 3 is dedicated to the notion of subsumption, which plays a crucial role in the semantics of only. It opens with an overview of Kratzer's (1989) account of subsumption within the framework of situation semantics. I then argue that Kratzer's account does not apply to modal sentences, in particular to counterfactuals. I propose that subsumption should be analyzed as Strawson-entailment with respect to a subset of W, i.e. as weak Strawson-entailment. The notion of Strawson-entailment was put to use by von Fintel (1997) in accounting for several phenomena related to counterfactuals. It will be shown to play a crucial role in a general account of subsumption as well. Throughout chapter 3 it is assumed that when only combines with a counterfactual, it takes as argument the proposition expressed by that counterfactual. In chapter 4 I try to be more faithful to the syntax, where only is a sister of the antecedent or the consequent, depending on its location in the sentence. I sketch an analysis where only, while not combining with the entire counterfactual, still has as its domain of quantification a set of counterfactual propositions.

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Recommended Citation

Cohen, Shai, "On the semantics of too and only: Distinctness and subsumption" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3379949.