Mood variation with belief predicates:  Modal comparison and the raisability of questions


This paper proposes that subjunctive in the complement of belief sentences in Italian expresses a relation between the attitude holder’s beliefs and the common ground. In contrast to most other Romance languages, ‘believe’ commonly and prescriptively takes subjunctive in Italian, though indicative is found as well, and as has been observed in the literature, the choice of indicative or subjunctive has semantic effects. We show that the indicative with ‘believe’ is used when the belief statement describes the personal mental state of the holder of the attitude, an interpretation that follows from the traditional Hintikkean semantics. In contrast, we show that subjunctive with ‘believe’ is used to mark a relation between the content of belief and the discourse context. To analyze these facts, we propose that the modal quantification present in attitude reports comes not from the attitude verb, but instead from the embedded verbal mood. What differentiates Italian from related languages where ‘believe’ only takes indicative, is that Italian allows the subjunctive to access the com- mon ground as a modal base, utilizing the verb’s doxastic background as an ordering source. The fact that subjunctive relates the common ground to the subject’s beliefs explains the discourse oriented meaning of this combination. We extend our analysis to several other predicates that show mood variation in Italian.


belief, mood, subjunctive, common ground, questions

How to Cite

Mari, A. & Portner, P., (2021) “Mood variation with belief predicates: Modal comparison and the raisability of questions”, Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 40(1): 132. doi:







Alda Mari (Institut Jean Nicod)
Paul Portner (Georgetown University)



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


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