yours, tiramisu

gricean maxims

I discovered this neat linguistics concept today, and these are the notes I took from two Youtube videos I watched on the topic. I've linked both of them in the bottom.

Gricean (Grice's) maxims

Paul Grice (1913-1988) was a British philosopher of language who argued that we communicate more than just the literal meaning of our words. He's best known for his cooperative principle and the four maxims that compose it, known as Grice's (or Gricean) maxims.

Cooperative principle

You should say things appropriate for the kind of conversation you're having. Grice broke this principle down into following 4 maxims:

Maxim of Quality

You should tell the truth and have enough evidence to back it up.

It's difficult to have a conversation with someone if you think they're lying to you or misinformed.

Maxim of Manner

You should talk in a way appropriate for your audience.

  1. Use words you think your listener will understand.
  2. Be brief; don't say more than you need to.
  3. Avoid obscurity and ambiguity.
  4. Say things in the right order.

Maxim of Relevance (or Relation)

Be relevant; say things pertinent to discussion.

A corollary to this is that two things are related even when they don't seem to be.

— Who ate all my Cheetos?

— Nolan has orange fingers.


— Honey, I'm leaving you.

— Well, who is he?!

To a logic bot, these response might seem completely irrelevant, but normal humans would be able to intuit their meanings.

Maxim of Quantity

Be as informative as one possibly can, and give as much information as is needed, and no more.

e.g. The remark I like some kinds of cookies in normal conversation implies that there are kinds of cookies that the speaker dislikes, whereas that conclusion would not follow in a purely logical context.

If you actually liked all kinds of cookies and followed the Maxim of Quantity, you would just say I like all cookies (because it's more informative), instead of I like some kinds of cookies.


When we use maxims, we create conversational implicatures, i.e. implying things that have not been said, based on what we know about people and about conversation.

Grice's Maxims aren't rules, but more accurately guidelines. We don't have to follow them, but people assume that we are. Breaking these maxims likely means you're not being cooperative, which can frustrate others.

What happens if we don't follow the maxims?

There are two ways to break these maxims:

Violate them,

which is breaking a maxim to deceive others. Or, you can

Flout them,

which is breaking a maxim in a way that you expect the other person to pick up on.

e.g. A professor intentionally writing a short recommendation letter that omits crucial information could be construed as a tacit lack of endorsement for the student in question.

e.g. Advertising that a product is low in sugar/fat/salt (flouting the maxim of quantity) implies that its competitors might not be.

Pragmatics and Gricean maxims by The Ling Space

The hidden rules of conversation by Tom Scott

Grice's maxims, briefly

#english #notes