Organon F

Volume 30, November 2023, Issue 4, Pages 372–411

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

Research Article

The Riddle of Understanding Nonsense

Krystian Bogucki


Typically, if I understand a sentence, then it expresses a proposition that I entertain. Nonsensical sentences don’t express propositions, but there are contexts in which we talk about understanding nonsensical sentences. For example, we accept various kinds of semantically defective sentences in fiction, philosophy, and everyday life. Furthermore, it is a standard assumption that if a sentence is nonsensical, then it makes no sense to say that it implies anything or is implied by other sentences. Semantically uninterpreted sentences don’t have logical characteristics. Hence, the riddle of understanding nonsense arises. We seem to use nonsensical sentences in reasoning, thinking, judging, and drawing conclusions, but they convey no propositions, which are the vehicles of their semantic properties. In this article, I propose the pretence theory of understanding nonsense to explain the riddle of understanding nonsense, and discuss alternative frameworks that are insufficient to solve it.


Nonsense; pretence; understanding, fiction, category mistakes.

Author(s) and affiliation(s)


Krystian Bogucki


Polish Academy of Sciences


Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Nowy Świat 72, 00-330 Warsaw, Poland


About this article


4 May 2023


13 December 2023


16 December 2023


Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Cite as


Bogucki, K. (2023). The Riddle of Understanding Nonsense. Organon F30(4), 372–411.


Bogucki, Krystian . 2023. "The Riddle of Understanding Nonsense." Organon F 30 (4): 372–411.


Bogucki, K. (2023). The Riddle of Understanding Nonsense. Organon F, 30(4), pp. 372–411.

Copyright information

© Krystian Bogucki

Response page

The above URL is linked to the article's response page. The response page is a permanent location associated with the article's DOI number.

This article is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Institute of Philosophy
Slovak Academy of Sciences
Klemensova 19
813 64 Bratislava
Slovak Republic
(+421 2) 5292 1215
FAX (+421 2) 5292 1215

Organon F takes part on the long-term preservation of the digital cultural heritage carried out by the University Library in Bratislava.