When a native English speaker says:

I won't go unless Jack goes.

I think it's clear that if Jack doesn't go, the subject will neither.

Does it mean that the subject will surely go when Jack goes, or the subject will probably go when Jack goes?

  • I'd say 'I will go if Jack goes' if that is what I meant. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 7:28
  • "...The subject won't either". Jack's agreeing to go is the condition necessary for the subject's agreeing to go. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 7:34

1 Answer 1


The speaker doesn't actually say that he or she will go if Jack goes. However, someone who says this often means that he or she will go if Jack goes, and that is what listeners often infer. If Jack went and the speaker didn't, then some confusion or debate might arise about what the speaker actually meant.

  • 2
    Indeed. In interpreting real, natural language, pragmatics are as important as semantics. If a speaker says I won't go unless Jack goes, but does not intend to go in any case, they are violating the Principle of relevance. Of course, they might be doing this deliberately, if they intend to mislead.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:27

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