The present tense is not vacuous

Published in Journal of Semantics, 2015

Abstract: This article presents a counter-argument to Sauerland’s (2002) claim that the present tense is vacuous. Sauerland’s conclusion is based on the premise that one cannot account for the felicity conditions of sentences like Every Tuesday this month, I fast if one assumes that the present tense denotes the time of utterance, or presupposes that its reference overlaps with the time of utterance. In a first step of the counter-argument, I show that Sauerland’s anti-presuppositional analysis of the present tense makes incorrect predictions with simple present sentences in certain contexts of utterance. In a second step of the counter-argument, I show that this premise is false: a non-vacuous analysis of the present tense in Sauerland’s examples is possible, once we acknowledge that they are interpreted either as futurates or as habituals. I conclude that the non-vacuous analysis of the present has the upper-hand. Incidentally, I propose a modal analysis of futurates that derives their temporal orientation from Condoravdi’s (2002) Diversity Condition on metaphysical modality and that is argued to be superior to existing analyses of futurity.

Guillaume Thomas. 2015. The present tense is not vacuous. Journal of Semantics 32:685-747. doi: 10.1093/jos/ffu010