Meta Model Violations Delete, Distort or Generalize Internal and External Verbal Communication.
Note: The presupposition forms discussed on this page are different from concepts commonly referred to as the presuppositions of NLP (e.g. the presuppositions upon which much of NLP is practiced). Additional forms and examples of presuppositions are included below by John David Hoag.
Introduction to Presuppositions
Presuppositions are statements in which some unstated element must be assumed (pre-supposed) to be true in order for the statement to make sense (to be true or false).
That is, the surface structure of the statements (the specific words and their meanings) omit or obscure the deep structure of the statements (their underlying message or presupposed truths). In the Meta Model, presupposition forms are named for the manner in which the sentences that contain them either delete or obscure the presupposition from the surface structure.
Presuppositions are at once the most powerful, prevalent, difficult to recognize, and important to understand of all the Meta Model forms. They can be powerfully life enhancing, or they can convey the most destructive messages of negative sponsorship and "thought viruses" (unrecognized limiting beliefs) without presenting anything objectionable in the surface language.
While the conscious mind attends to the surface structure, the unconscious grasps and responds to the deep structure – the presupposition – without reasoned review, analysis, or process of conscious acceptance or rejection.
In verbally abusive forms, presuppositions are often stacked in multiple layers and are delivered with a spontaneous rapidity which makes effective challenge difficult or of limited value.
Recognition of presuppositions is an essential skill in maintaining mental and physical health, whether the language is being used by another or by oneself.
On the positive side, presuppositional statements can be powerful delivery vehicles for empowering messages of sponsorship and self-esteem.
Most of the examples given here are negative-content presuppositions, since recognition of negative presuppositions is of immediate value to health. It is left as an exercise to the reader to construct examples of positive content presuppositions.
On Learning Presuppositions
The best way to make use of the following list of presuppositions and their examples is simply to read through them, do your best to understand them as you read, note those which are easy to recognize, and begin building familiarity with the rest one by one.
Learning to hear and recognize presuppositions at first may seem a daunting task, since some of them are not at all obvious and the brain has to do significant work to extract them from the surface structure of the language. With presuppositions, it’s what you don’t see or hear that is the presupposition.
Another good learning exercise is to take a presuppositional form and construct your own examples of it. Doing so will exercise your brain, like learning a new language. But don’t let the obvious effort discourage you. Your brain is smarter than you may think. It already knows what to do with presuppositions. It uses them all the time, non-consciously. It’s your conscious awareness that needs training.
The more you familiarize yourself with them, the more they will sink in until, after a while, your brain begins to present them to your conscious attention in surprising and obvious ways. Just present the information to your brain enough times, and ask it to create presuppositions and, before you know it, presuppositions will literally JUMP out at you in everyday speech and internal thinking patterns!
Types and Examples
1. Simple Presuppositions:
The simple existence of something, someone, or some particular type or role of something or someone is presupposed.
a. Proper Names
When a proper name is used, a person it belongs to is presupposed to exist.
"Mr. Handsome left a message for you."
- Presupposition: There exists someone named, or who could be called, Mr. Handsome.
When a pronoun is used, it presupposes the existence of someone it refers to.
"I saw him leave."
- Presupposition: There exists some male.
"I think therefore I am." (Descartes)
- Presupposition: There exists an 'I' to think.
c. Definite Descriptions
Referring to someone or something in terms of a definition of role, category, or other characteristic presupposes the existence of that 'someone' or 'something' in that role or category to which the definition applies. When used metaphorically, this form of presupposition often has the surface structure of characterological metaphor.
"Why should we have to watch advertising before a movie that we just paid to see? Andy Rooney thinks there should be a law making movie theaters tell you exactly what time the show - not the advertising - begins." -- (www.cbsnews.com, 8/16/04)
- Presupposition: There will be advertising.
"I once asked my five-year-old nephew, 'Who broke the fence?' (I had seen him do it.) He answered, 'The murderers.' Who could argue?" (Stephanie Ericsson, "The Ways We Lie", Companion into the Dawn: Inner Dialogues on Loving, 1994)
- Presupposition: There are murderers (plausibly nearby)
"What is your problem?"
- Presupposition: You have a problem.
"Uh-oh, here comes the elephant."
- Presupposition: There exists someone or something describable as "the elephant".
"You are not intelligent enough to figure out the puzzle."
- There are multiple presuppositions here:
- There is a puzzle.
- The puzzle can be figured out.
- It takes intelligence to figure out the puzzle.
- Intelligence is a comparative quality.
- The speaker knows how intelligent you are.
d. Generic Noun Phrases
Noun arguments standing for a whole class.
"Mommy's-boys have to sit in the back seat"
- Presupposition: There are people whose identity can be described as "mommy's-boys."
e. Some Quantifiers
all, each, every, some, many, few, none
"Few daddy's-girls grow up to be happy."
- Presupposition: There are people whose identity can be described as "daddy's girls."
"None of the best people would like you."
- Presupposition: There are best people.
2. Complex Presuppositions
Cases in which more than the simple existence of an element is presupposed.
a. Relative Clauses
Complex noun arguments, with a noun followed by a phrase beginning with: who, which, with, or that (often omitted).
"The ugly jacket [that] you keep wearing makes me sick."
- Presupposition: You keep wearing an ugly jacket.
"The people who are saying [that] you're not doing a good job don't know what they're talking about."
- Presupposition: Some people are saying you're not doing a good job.
"Of course, I am just one man and that is just my opinion. Others with less experience are free to think otherwise. " -- Mark Twain
- Presupposition: Those who think otherwise have less experience.
"Are these the people [who] you want talking to your God for you?" (Preacher in the 1997 movie, "Contact")
- Presupposition: You want someone talking to your God for you. (See also Meta Model "Either/Or" – Notice that answering either 'yes' or 'no' to the question validates the presupposition.)
"Your simple cooking which is good enough for us won't do for my family when they come to visit."
- Presupposition: Your cooking is simple.
b. Subordinate Clauses of Time
Clauses identified by the cue words: before, after, during, as, since, back, prior, when, while.
"If anyone heard you during one of your whining episodes they'd know how insufferable you are."
- Presupposition: You have whining episodes.
"We can still get there in time after you take our bags to the check-in if you hurry."
- Presupposition: You will take our bags to the check-in.
"When you're older you'll understand what I'm saying."
- Presupposition: You don't understand now.
- Presupposition: You're not old enough to understand.
- Presupposition: Being older will enable you to understand.
"When it happens, it will happen without any warning."
- Presupposition: It will happen.
"Prior to our little talk last night things were fine."
-Presupposition: We had "a little talk" last night. (Also a Definite Description: "little talk", e.g., what we had last night was a little talk. -- This example is taken from a real life event in which the speaker, in an out of control rage, threatened physically violence upon an innocent person and, the next day, described his enraged threats as "a little talk.")
"I only get mad at you after you do something stupid."
-Presupposition: You do stupid things.
"Investors are putting their money back to work." -- (TdAmeriTrade.com tv ad, CBS, 1/24/2010, AFC Football playoff, Colts vs Jets)
-Presupposition: Investors stopped putting their money to work.
b2. Subordinate Clauses of Location
Clauses identified by the cue word: where.
"Where did you get a crazy idea like that?"
- Presupposition: You got the idea from somewhere -- other than yourself.
(Note: the characterization, "crazy," is in the surface structure, not the deep structure. Debating whether the idea was crazy or not accepts the presupposition that the idea was not one's own.)
c. Cleft Sentences
Sentences beginning with "It [was/is]..." noun argument.
"It's your smugness that irks me."
- Presupposition: Something irks me. (Also presupposes that the speaker is in a position which is superior or objective enough to absolutely characterize 'smugness' as an attribute of who you are .)
d. Pseudo-Cleft Sentences
Identified by the form, "What [phrase] is [phrase]."
"What he hopes to do is make amends."
- Presupposition: He hopes to do something.
"What your intentional nagging is doing is ruining our relationship."
-Presupposition: You are intentionally nagging.
"I think what you're trying to say is, 'Shut up.'"
-Presupposition: You are trying unsuccessfully to say something.
e. Stressed Sentences (Vocal stress)
"If you were bothering YOUR BOSS you'd get fired."
- Presupposition: You bothered someone.
(Combined with Cleft Sentence)
"If it was YOUR BOSS you were bothering, you'll get fired."
- Presupposition: You were bothering someone.
"So it was JIMMY who sent you!"
- Presupposition: You were sent.
f. Complex Adjectives
Usage: New, old, former, present, previous, future
"Your future husbands will undoubtedly be more satisfactory."
- Presupposition: Your present marriage will not last and you will remarry more than once.
"He is not presently being stupid."
- Presupposition: He either has been, or will be stupid.
g. Ordinal Numerals
Usage: first, second, once, third, next, another, last
"The next time you deliberately look ugly I'm staying home."
- Presupposition: You deliberately look ugly now, or have deliberately looked ugly in the past.
"That is the last time I'm going to put up with that!"
- Presupposition: I put up with something multiple times.
"Naturally, I could be wrong. It happened once before."
- Presupposition: I have only ever been wrong once.
Usage: -er, more, less
"If you know better lovers than Sue does, tell me who they are."
- Presupposition: Sue knows at least one lover.
Usage: distinguishing, differentiating, trying to
"You are distinguishing yourself from the nerds with those shoes."
- Presupposition: You are a nerd.
"She's just trying to be different."
- Presupposition: She is not different.
Judge: "Are you trying to show contempt for this court?"
Flower Belle: "No, your honor, I'm doin' my best to hide it!"
- Presupposition (on the part of the judge): Flower Belle may not be succeeding in showing her contempt for the court.
- Presupposition (on the part of Flower Belle): She is not succeeding in not showing her contempt for the court..
-- Movie: "My Little Chickadee" (1940), Mae West and W.C. Fields.
i. Comparative As
Usage: ...as x as...
"When your taste is as good as mine you can decide what to buy."
- Presupposition: My taste is good.
j. Repetitive Cue Words
Usage: too, also, either, again, back
"If you tell me that again, I'll scream."
- Presupposition: You have told me that (at least once).
"If you would just love me back, I'd be nice."
- Presupposition: You don't love me
"Either get smart or be quiet."
- Presupposition: You are not smart.
k. Repetitive Verbs and Adverbs
Verbs and adverbs beginning with re-. Examples: repeatedly, return, restore, retell, replace, renew
"When you replace your wig, I'll go out with you."
- Presupposition: You wear a wig.
"When your sanity returns, we'll talk."
- Presupposition: You have lost your sanity.
"He'll restore honor and dignity to our club."
- Presupposition: Our club once had honor and dignity and does not have them now.
Usage: only, even, except, just
"That's just the way I am."
- Presupposition: That's the only way I can be.
"Only you could be so dense."
- Presupposition: You are dense.
"Even you could understand."
- Presupposition: You are stupid.
"Chernobyl was the design disaster. First of all, the Soviets had much weaker and less safe designs for their nuclear power plants than even the U.S. manufacturers of nuclear power plants."
(Ralph Nader, History Channel Interview, "Engineering Disasters" 1999)
– Presupposition: The U.S. had weak and unsafe designs
"She was just a prostitute."
- Presuppositions: She was nothing more.
"Ol' Merton will have to sign an 'X' because only four of us can write." (From the 2000 movie: "O Brother Where Art Thou")
- Presupposition: There are more than four of us. (In the movie, four musicians are about to be paid in cash by a blind producer -- who doesn't know how many of them there are -- once they have signed a contract.) Note that "Merton" is a simple Proper Name presupposition (see above) that someone named "Merton" exists in this context.
m. Change-of-Place Verbs
Usage: come, go, leave, arrive, depart, return, enter
"You will not be welcome when you return."
- Presupposition: You will leave, are leaving, or have left.
n. Change-of-Time Verbs & Adverbs
Usage: begin, end, stop, start, continue, proceed, already, yet, still, anymore, will
"She hasn't broken up with you yet."
- Presupposition: She will break up with you.
"I can already see you are changing."
- Presupposition: You have changed.
"Will the universe last forever?"
- Presupposition: It might not.
o. Change-of-State Verbs
Usage: change, transform, turn into, become
"Things will look different when you become a man."
- Presupposition: You are not a man now.
"She turned into a screaming banshee from Hell."
- Presupposition: She was previously something else.
p. Factive Verbs and Adjectives
Usage: odd, aware, know, realize, regret
"It is odd that you never touch me unless you want sex."
- Presupposition: You never touch me unless you want sex.
"Stop and realize that I love you."
- Presupposition: You do not realize that I love you.
q. Commentary Adjectives and Adverbs
Usage: lucky, fortunately, excellent, great, innocently, happily, necessarily
"It's great that we can finish each other's sentences."
- Presupposition: We can finish each other's sentences.
r. Counterfactual Conditional Clauses
Verbs having subjunctive tense
"If you had listened to me, you wouldn't be in this position."
- Presupposition: You didn't listen to me.
- Presupposition: I told you something.
"If you should decide you want a real marriage, I'll be in the next room."
- Presupposition: I don't expect you to want a real marriage.
t. Selectional Restrictions
Attributing conscious awareness to an inanimate object or a mode of communication to a creature that doesn't have that mode. ("A chair can have feelings.") Denying conscious awareness in conscious beings or denying a mode of communication or capability to a creature which does have that mode. Excluding complementary categories by definite description (gender, race, religion, etc.). See also: Selectional Restriction Violations in the Meta Model
"Women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just 'fight or flight'."
- Presupposition: Men do not have a larger behavioral repertoire than just 'fight or flight'.
"To my kitty, I'm just 'Food Lady'."DR. HOUSE: "This guy wasn't pandering. He wasn't vanilla-izing. He was nice without any aspiration, personal gain. I'm thinking genetic defect."
- Presupposition: A kitty can think 'Food Lady' (and I know what my kitty thinks (mind reading))
OTHER DOCTOR: "Niceness is a defect?"
DR. HOUSE: "Three cavemen see a stranger running towards them with a spear. One fights, one flees, one smiles and invites him over for fondue. That last guy didn't last long enough to procreate."
TV SHOW: House: "No More Mr. Nice Guy" (2008, Starring Hugh Laurie. Tribune Media Services, Inc.)
- Presupposition: : The guy Dr. House was treating shouldn't exist.
"Who hid my keys?"
- Presupposition: Someone hid my keys.
"Am I allowed to say that?"
- Presupposition: Someone controls what I can and cannot say.
- Presupposition: You know, or control, what I can and cannot say.
v. Negative Questions
"Didn't you want to talk to me?"
- Presupposition: I thought you wanted to talk to me.
w. Rhetorical Questions
- Presupposition: Nobody cares. (or) I don't care.
"What's YOUR problem?"
- Presupposition: You have a problem.
"Who asked you?"
- Presupposition: You should only speak when asked.
x. Spurious Not
"I wonder if you're not being a little unfair."
- Presupposition: I think you're being unfair.
"Shouldn't both partners be responsible for destroyed relationships?"
- Presupposition: Both partners are responsible.
y. Aristotelian Classification
"You moved twice, recently. So, are you a wanderer?"
- Presupposition: You exist as a [class, instance, object, or thing].