Given a grammatical sentence like "Colorless green grass sleeps furiously" is it possible to assign a truth value to it?

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    What do you mean by 'selection violations'? Jun 29, 2014 at 4:39
  • I've never understood why this sentence (and others similar to it) are taken as meaningless. It seems that they are vacuously true (or perhaps false, depending on one's view on the semantics of generics).
    – J.P.
    Jun 30, 2014 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


Only some sentences have truth values - those that do are called propositions. The given sentence isn't a proposition so one should not expect it to have truth-values.

Propositions are a small part of meaningful sentences. For example 'Hello, how are you?', 'that was wicked!' are meaningful sentences, but they aren't propositions. The sentence 'the invisible worm that flies through the howling storm' is meaningful in context, which is a poem by Blake - The Sick Rose - and here the 'Rose', is not just a Rose; but also England and/or perhaps Nature; to gather its full meaning one must engage in the the hermeneutics of intepretation taking account of Blakes ouevre and his influences.

But to go back to your sentence - or rather Chomskys; as he suggested it as an example of a gramatically correct sentence but that it lacks meaning; this is correct in one sense, but not in another; the meaning of this specific sentence is the one that Chomsky gave it:'grammatically correct but lacks meaning'; this appears as a reflexive contradiction - but the contradiction is only apparent; Chomskys notion of meaning is a narrow one - the one alluded to earlier; it would be an interesting study to specify just how narrow.

  • I think I am stuck with the idea that some possible interpretation or model could exist where this sentence would have some meaning. Is it possible to definitely exclude the possibility that some model exists where the sentence has meaning and therefore a truth value?
    – James
    Jun 29, 2014 at 6:33
  • @james: meanings are not only truth-values; one can say if something has a truth-value then it has a meaning, but not the reverse; I'm assuming that you are using the logical form of truth (true/false) rather than more richer understanding what truth might mean; you can certainly construct a model that gives this sentence a meaning: colourless green grass sleep furiously/when cries cryfully the tangent moon/green grass grows colourfully/when laughs laughfully the unbottled sun. Its meaning being the first sentence in this newly invented childrens ditty, but thats not giving it a truth-value Jun 29, 2014 at 7:15
  • What precludes me from inquiring about the truth value of "if the colorless green grass sleeps furiously today and the sun will rise tomorrow." (which clearly is a proposition)?
    – Dave
    Jun 30, 2014 at 14:14
  • @dave:Wittgenstein aligned the truth-values of propositions with the facts of the world; in that interpretation, there is no alignment with colourless green grass sleeping furiously in this world; in Wittgensteins sense it isn't a proposition - it just looks like one; you could choose another intepretation - say a genetically engineered future, another fictional, or (im)probable world...but then they're not propositions in the classical sense of the word. Jun 30, 2014 at 21:06

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