I never lost in tennis against Roger Federer.

It's a negation and 'true' but it's misleading. In fact I never played tennis against Federer. I'm looking for a name or a category for these type of statements e.g. how something that never happened also wasn't. If there is a classic famous example, or if it is against the rules of modal logic where the statement should have a possibility of being true ("I'm not wearing purple shoes but it could be true.") Usually statements are false or true. Likewise: "I never failed any exam at Harvard."


2 Answers 2


If we can reformulate your example as a conditional, i.e. along the lines of :

every time I've played with Federer, I've won

we can try to analyze it as a Counterfactual conditional, exploiting Davis Lewis's analysis :

The semantics of a conditional A → B are given by some function on the relative closeness of worlds where A is true and B is true, on the one hand, and worlds where A is true but B is not, on the other.

On Lewis's account, A → C is :

(a) vacuously true if and only if there are no worlds where A is true (for example, if A is logically or metaphysically impossible);

(b) non-vacuously true if and only if, among the worlds where A is true, some worlds where C is true are closer to the actual world than any world where C is not true;

or (c) false otherwise.

In your case, we have no logical or physical or metaphysical impossibility against your palying tennis with Federer; thus, case (a) must be excluded.

Thus, we can say that the actaul world is much closer to a world were you play against Federer and lose the game than a world where you play and win.

If so, case (c) applies, and we can conclude that it is false.

  • The A portion of the statement specifically refers to the real world. Thus, the "no possible worlds" doesn't apply (or "the real world is the only possible world", if you like).
    – Brilliand
    Mar 31, 2017 at 18:29
  • From this, I would conclude that the statement as phrased in this answer is vacuously true, and the alternate phrasing "every time I play tennis with Federer, I win" would be the false version.
    – Brilliand
    Mar 31, 2017 at 18:34
  • Also, note that losing and winning are not the only possible outcomes. There are also the possibilities of a draw, an agreement not to keep score, or abandonment of the game without agreeing on an outcome. The statement in this answer thus has a different (stronger) meaning than the one in the question.
    – Brilliand
    Mar 31, 2017 at 18:38

I would call it "literally true but intentionally misleading". "Literally", a word that is often misused and misunderstood, means that something is so if you look at it precisely, but not if you apply the usual interpretations that people make.

In this case, the sentence if true if interpreted literally. But if you look at what the average person understands when reading the sentence, what they understand is not in fact true. And it looks like it is intentionally designed to be true but to make the reader understand something that is untrue.

On the other hand, you might ask the same question on http://english.stackexchange.com .

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