Speaking means that we express the meaning through language, and this meaning usually divide into two parts, that is:

  • The literal meaning
  •  The implied meaning

According to the content, it includes two groups:

  • The direct speaking content
  • The indirect speaking content

The direct speaking content –> The literal meaning

The indirect speaking content –>The implied meaning

The implied meaning –> implicature

The implicature in conversation –> conversational implicature

The term “Implicature” accounts for what a speaker can imply, suggest or mean, as distinct from what the speaker literally says (Grice, 1975). Implicature is a technical term, which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied, for example:

John is meeting a woman this evening.

> The woman John is meeting this evening is not his mother, his sister or his wife.

Implicature is one of the ways that one proposition can be conveyed by a speaker uttering or under appropriate. Implicature includes two types which are conversational implicature and conventional one.

Conversational Implicature

Conversational implicature is implications derived on the basis of conversational principles and assumptions, relying on more than the linguistic meaning of words in a sentence. It derives from the cooperative principle of conversation and a number of maxims expected to be followed by participants in a speech event.

Example 1:

Student A: Do you like Linguistics?

Student B: Well, let’s just say I don’t jump for joy before class.

A asked B about his feelings about the class, and B said B didn’t celebrate before the class. It shows the uninterested feeling of B about Linguistics subject.

Implicatures arise from the interaction of the following 3 factors:

  1. The proposition actually expressed in the utterance
  2. Possibly certain features of the context (in any of the 3 notions of ‘context’)
  3. The assumption that the speaker is obeying the rules of conversation to the best of their ability.

Example: A ‘standard’ implicature (speaker is trying to obey the rules conversation).

A: Will Sally be at the meeting this afternoon?

B: Her car broke down.

> Sally won’t be at the meeting.

The Cooperative Principle

Grice (1975) proposed the cooperative principle which means making your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged (Yule, 1966). Thomas (1996) defines it as an attempt at explaining how a hearer gets from what is said to what it meant, from the level of expressed meaning to the level of implied meaning. In other words, the listener presumes that the speaker from both parties will normally seek to cooperate with each other to establish agreed meaning, that are speaking truthfully, informatively, relevantly, exactly, and appropriately.

The Maxims of the Cooperative Principle

Conversational implicatures are generated by a speaker’s presumed obedience to Cooperative Principle. In short, these maxims specify what the participants have to do in order to converse in a maximally efficient, rational, cooperative way: they should speak sincerely, relevantly and clearly while providing sufficient information.

1. The maxims of Quantity

  • Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
  • Give the right amount of information (not too little, not too much).
  • Do not make your contribution one that is true.


A: Are you at the office?

B: Yes, I am. You will see me at room 12 of Halley building.

2. The maxims of Quality

  • Try to say only what is true (don’t say that for which you lack adequate evidence; don’t say what you know to be false).


A: Do you think that smoking is good for health?

B: No, I think it’s not good for our health.

3. The maxims of Relevance

  • Make what you say relevant to the topic at hand (be relevant).


A: Why do you learn English?

B; Yes, I learn it because of my hobby.

4. The maxims of Manner

  • Be clear (avoid ambiguity, avoid excessive wordiness, avoid obscurity of expression, be orderly, etc.).


A: What do you think about Ha Long Bay?

B: I like Ha Long Bay, it has a lot of beautiful caves.

Tests for Implicature

Grice (in Levinson, 1995) says that implicatures exhibit the following four major distinguishing properties:

  • Cancellability (or defeasibilty)
  • Non – detachability (or inference based on meaning rather than form)
  • Calculability
  • Non-conventionality

Cancellability (or defeasibilty)


(70) Joe taunted Ralph and Ralph hit him.

(71) First Joe taunted Ralph and then Ralph hit him.

(72) Joe taunted Ralph and Ralph hit him, but not necessarily in that order.

Levinson (1995:119) concludes that one of the attractions of implicature is that it would make unnecessary ambiguity claims.

Non – detachability

Sadock (in Levinson,1995:119) points out, to test for non-detachability you have to have a set of synonymous expressions, which should share the same implicatures.

(73) some of the boys went to the soccer match.

(74) not all of the boys went to the soccer match.

(75) Some and perhaps all of the boys went to the soccer match.

So (73) and (75), being equivalent in meaning, should share the same implicatures. But they don’t, since only (73) implicates (74).


Joe taunted Ralph and Ralph hit him.

But is substituted for and argues for a rejection of the ambiguity claim. Gazdar (in Levinson,1995:120) suggests that some designated implicatures can cancel others. In (75)There is an additional implicature due to the phrase perhaps all.


(79) that man has two children

(80) the cloth is white

(81) that man has no more than two children

(82) the cloth is wholly white

A further important feature of generalized conversational implicatures is that we would expect them to be universal.

Implicature and Logical Form

Implicatures can not sensibly be derived from uninterpreted surface structures. There are many utterances that differ in surface structure but which share the same implicature.

(84) perhaps P

May be P

Possibly P

Potentially P

Note: P is any declarative sentence expressing the proposition P.

There is one obvious but important exception to the claim that implicatures make reference to semantic representation and truth conditions but not to surface structure.

Kinds of Implicature

  •       Standard implicature

Standard implicatures are derived from a simple assumption that the speaker is observing the maxims and derived in more complex ways on basis of speaker flouting or exploiting maxims.

  •      Generalized implicature

That arises without any particular context or special scenario being necessary.

  •       Particularized implicature

Do require such specific or special context scenario.

  •       Conventional Implicature

Conventional implicatures are non – truth – condition inference that is not derived from superdinate pragmatic principles like the maxims.

Generalized Implicature

It is a conversational implicature that is inferable without reference to a special context (no special knowledge is required to figure out the additional meaning). It means that a generalized conversational implicature is one which does not depend on particular features of the context, but is instead typically associated with the proposition expressed.


A leader asked a staff:

A: How do you feel about John these days?

B: He usually goes out late at night with someone who has a husband.

A: That’s so bad. Do you know who that woman is?

B: Yes. She is his wife.

On generalized implicature to be best understood we should consider two specific and important sub-cases : scalar implicature and clausal Implicature.

Scalar Implicature

Certain information is always communicated by choosing a word which expressed one value from a scale of value. The basic of scalar implicature is that when any form in a scale is asserted, the negative of all forms higher on the scale is implicated. This is particularly obvious in terms for expressing quantity.


(1) I ate some of the cake.

This sentence implies “I did not eat all of the cake”.

(2) Some of the boys went to the party.

In the utterance (2), the word some implicates “not all of the boys went to the party.”

The words none, some, and all form an implicational scale, in which the use of one form implicates that the use of a stronger form is not possible.

Clausal Implicature

If Sentences asserts some complex expression which contains an embedded sentence and neither entails nor presuppose and there’s an alternative expression of roughly equal brevity which contains such than implicate that doesn’t know whether is true or false.

Particularized Implicatures

A particularized conversation is the implicature that occurs when a conversation takes place in a very specific context in which locally recognized inferences are assumed. Special knowledge is required in special context in which speaker and hearer understand only. In another word, a particularized implicature is a conversational implicature that is derivable only in a specific context.

Example 1:

A: Where is my book?

B: Your young sister is drawing something.

The action “draw” of young sister would ordinarily not convey anything about her book, so implicature in this case depends on the context as well as the utterance itself.

Example 2:

A: What on earth has happened to the roast beef?

B: The dog is looking very happy.

In the above exchange, A will likely derive the implicature “the dog ate the roast beef” from B’s statement. This is due to A’s belief that B is observing the conversational maxim of relation or relevance in the specific context of A’s question.

Example 3:

Vernon: Do you like Monica?

Bill: She’s the cream in my coffee.

Bill’s implicated message: yes, more than you know. Bill must be speaking metaphorically, and there must be a reason for doing so. A simple “yes” apparently wasn’t enough. He’s trying to tell Vernon that ordinary words can’t express what he feels for Monica, so he’s using a metaphor to indicate that his feelings are at another level.


Figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used of one thing is applied to another. It is the exploitations or floutings of the maxim of quality. It is distinct from, but related to simile. The primary difference is that a simile uses the word ‘like’ or as to compare two things, while metaphor simply suggests that the dissimilar things are same.

The purpose of Metaphors

  • Expressions are used to give effect to a statement, the statement will be bland if it just uses the ordinary expression.
  • Metaphors are meant to create an impact in the minds of readers.


  • He drowned in a sea of grief.
  • She is fishing in troubled waters.
  • Sam is giant.
  • The light of my life.
  • Time is a thief.
  • Feel blue.

In two implicatures, the particularized conversational implicature is used widely, because it can provide with more contents, more aspects of speech than generalized conversational implicature. Accidentally or intentionally, the statement can create many implicatures and impacts on many people. At the same time, the troubles in conversation and the cases “one pulls one way, the other pulls the other way” occur.

Conventional Implicature

Conventional implicature is an implicature that is part of a lexical item’s or expression’s agreed meaning, rather than derived from principles of language use, and not part of the conditions for the truth of the item or expression. It is not based on the cooperative principle or the maxims. It does not have to occur in conversation. It does not depend on special contexts for their interpretation. It is associated with specific words and result in additional conveyed meanings when those words are used.

Some words are expressions for conventional implicature:

1. “but”: “A but B” will be based on the relationship between A and B and an implicature of contrast between the information in A and B.

Example: (1) Mary is crying but she is happy.

”Mary is crying” is contrast to “she is happy”

(2) Joe is poor but happy.

This sentence implies poverty and happiness are not compatible but in spite of this Joe is still happy. This sentence will always necessarily imply “Surprisingly Joe is happy in spite of being poor”.

2. “even”: implicature of contrast of “contrary to expectation”

Example:  David even helped the old woman to go home.

This sentence implies David is not expected to help the old woman but he did.

3. “yet”: the present situation is expected to be different, perhaps the opposite, at a later time.

Example:  Mum has not gone home yet.

This sentence implies negation of this sentence is “Mum went home”. So “mum went home” is expected to be true later.

Implicature and Language Structure

Conversational implicature is a theory of language use. However, it has implications for the study of language structure. The linguistic description of morphemes and lexical items must at times refer to the notion of conversational implicature. Conversational implicature plays a major role in language change, triggering both syntactic and semantic change.


Levinson, S. 1995. Pragmatics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mey, J. 1993. Pragmatics. An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell.

Thomas, J. 1995. Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics. London: Longman.

Yule, G. 1996. Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About nawangwulan19

Be GREAT in ACT, as you've been in THOUGHT!!!

Posted on April 11, 2013, in Learning English, Pragmatics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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