Free choice is a phenomenon in natural language where a linguistic disjunction appears to receive a logical conjunctive interpretation when it interacts with a modal operator. For example, the following English sentences can be interpreted to mean that the addressee can watch a movie AND that they can also play video games, depending on their preference:[1]

  1. You can watch a movie OR play video games.
  2. You can watch a movie OR you can play video games.

Free choice inferences are a major topic of research in formal semantics and philosophical logic because they are not valid in classical systems of modal logic. If they were valid, then the semantics of natural language would validate the Free Choice Principle.

  1. Free Choice Principle:

This symbolic logic formula above is not valid in classical modal logic: Adding this principle as an axiom to standard modal logics would allow one to conclude from , for any and . This observation is known as the Paradox of Free Choice.[1][2] To resolve this paradox, some researchers have proposed analyses of free choice within nonclassical frameworks such as dynamic semantics, linear logic, alternative semantics, and inquisitive semantics.[1][3][4] Others have proposed ways of deriving free choice inferences as scalar implicatures which arise on the basis of classical lexical entries for disjunction and modality.[1][5][6][7]

Free choice inferences are most widely studied for deontic modals, but also arise with other flavors of modality as well as imperatives, conditionals, and other kinds of operators.[1][8][9][4] Indefinite noun phrases give rise to a similar inference which is also referred to as "free choice" though researchers disagree as to whether it forms a natural class with disjunctive free choice.[9][10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Aloni, Maria (2016). "Disjunction". In Zalta, Edward (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  2. ^ Kamp, Hans (1973). "Free choice permission". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 74: 57–74. doi:10.1093/aristotelian/74.1.57.
  3. ^ Simons, Mandy (2005). "Dividing things up: The semantics of or and the modal/or interaction". Natural Language Semantics. 13 (3): 271–316. doi:10.1007/s11050-004-2900-7. S2CID 14338992.
  4. ^ a b Willer, Malte (2018). "Simplifying with free choice". Topoi. 37 (3): 379–392. doi:10.1007/s11245-016-9437-5. S2CID 125934921.
  5. ^ Fusco, Melissa (2014). "Free choice permission and the counterfactuals of pragmatics". Linguistics and Philosophy. 37 (4): 275–290. doi:10.1007/s10988-014-9154-8. S2CID 27379239.
  6. ^ Schulz, Katrin (2007). Minimal models in semantics and pragmatics: Free choice, exhaustivity, and conditionals (Thesis). University of Amsterdam ILLC.
  7. ^ Fox, Danny (2007). "Free choice and the theory of scalar implicatures". In Sauerland, U.; Stateva, P. (eds.). Presupposition and implicature in compositional semantics. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 71–120. doi:10.1057/9780230210752_4. ISBN 978-1-349-28206-7.
  8. ^ Zimmerman, Thomas Ede (2000). "Free choice disjunction and epistemic possibility". Natural Language Semantics. 8 (4): 255–290. doi:10.1023/A:1011255819284. S2CID 122826485.
  9. ^ a b Aloni, Maria (2007). "Free choice, modals and imperatives". Natural Language Semantics. 15: 65–94. doi:10.1007/s11050-007-9010-2. S2CID 16471990.
  10. ^ Giannakidou, Anastasia (2001). "The meaning of free choice". Linguistics and Philosophy. 24 (6): 659–735. doi:10.1023/A:1012758115458. S2CID 10533949.