Organon F

Volume 28, August 2021, Issue 3, Pages 581–595

ISSN 2585-7150 (online) ISSN 1335-0668 (print)

Research Article | Special issue on Value in Language

‘Boys Don’t Cry’ – An Ambiguous Statement?

Katharina Felka


As has often been observed in the literature, an utterance of a generic such as ‘Boys don’t cry’ can convey a normative behavioral rule that applies to boys, roughly: that boys shouldn’t cry. This observation has led many authors to the claim that generics are ambiguous: they allow both for a descriptive as well as a normative reading. The present paper argues against this common assumption: it argues that the observation in question should be addressed at the level of pragmatics, rather than at the level of semantics. In particular, the paper argues that the normative force of utterances of generics results from the presence of a conversational implicature. This result should somewhat alleviate the task of finding a proper semantic analysis of generics since it shows that at least one of their intriguing features need not be reflected in their truth-conditions.


Generics; normative generics; semantics-pragmatics interface; conversational implicatures.

Author(s) and affiliation(s)


Katharina Felka


University of Graz


Institute of Philosophy Heinrichstr. 26/5th floor, A-8010 Graz, Austria


About this article


16 November 2020


19 May 2021

Published online

30 August 2021


Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Cite as


Felka, K. (2021). ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ – An Ambiguous Statement? Organon F28(3), 581–595.


Felka, Katharina. 2021. "‘Boys Don’t Cry’ – An Ambiguous Statement?" Organon F 28 (3): 581–595.


Felka, K. (2021). ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ – An Ambiguous Statement? Organon F, 28(3), pp. 581–595.

Copyright information

© Katharina Felka

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