The current king of France punched me in the mouth today

No, it’s not a political thread. Rather, I’m hoping to kick off some discussion as to whether the sentence “The current king of France punched me in the mouth today” is false or incoherent.

I’m of the opinion that this sentence is false. If no one punched me in the mouth today, then I can rest my case. If someone did, he is not the current king of France, as France has no king at this point in time. And of course no woman is the present king of France at any point in time.

However, the argument that the sentence is incoherent is not terribly easy to dismiss. It comes down to the question of who the semantical subject of that sentence is. Since there is no current king of France, the sentence doesn’t refer to anyone, and is therefore incoherent–coherent sentences must refer to someone or something.

I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not true, due to the reasons that I outlined arguing that the sentence is false. For what it’s worth, no one has punched me in the mouth today as of this writing.

What say you, learned dopers?

There’s plenty of dispossessed royalty walking around (Michael Romanov, Reza Pahlavi, et al). I went to school with a Korean princess. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that someone out there (a) claims to be the rightful King of France and (b) clocked you.

Not true, but not incoherent. The generally-accepted definition of incoherence is lacking clarity, or being incomprensible. There are such things as kings, France once had one, you’ve most likely got a mouth and people have been known to get punched there; so the sentence seems coherent to me.

Now if you’d said “The phlebotomy of Manx fluffed me in the bejeezis today”…

Agree with El_Kabong - it is not rendered automatically incoherent by being false. It might be possible for something to be rendered false by being incoherent though.


I once had a luscious pizza made by the King of Spain!

Well, no. “In the Euclidean plane, there is a triangle whose angles add up to 270[sup]o[/sup]” is false but not incoherent. In fact, I’d argue that in order to say that a sentence is true or false requires that it be coherent.

Generally, one doesn’t like to assign truth values to nonsensical statements.

The statement is false by dint of the fact that there is no King of France. It’s true that “there is a King of France” is implied by the sentence. It may also be false that you were punched in the mouth at all.

The sentence also implies other things that may or may not be true. It implies that you interacted with another person; maybe you didn’t. It implies that you have a mouth; maybe you’re severely deformed.

The sentence is not false at first glance. Our knowledge of France, however, is enough to know that it is false.

That actually depends on when the sentence was written. The “current” and “today” in the sentence need not refer to “now”. If someone in the past had been punched in the mouth by the then-king-of-France, and proceeded to pen the phrase in the OP, then it would be true.

In other words, the sentence is neither true nor false by itself. We need context, and simply knowing the France doesn’t currently have a king isn’t enough to determine the sentence’s truth value.

I think if I had punched you in the mouth I would have remembered, mon ami!

Did he eat humble pie?

I once share a pair of boots (wellies) and a pot of Dutch coffee with Princess Margaret. She’s dead now.

Uh, that was shared not share

What about these sentences:

I was not punched in the nose by the King of France today.
The King of France did not punch me in the nose today.

My inclination is to say that the first one is true, but I’m not sure whether the second one is.


The sentence is incoherent*. All the individual tokens are valid. The grammatical construction is valid. But the semantical content is not considered a member of the set of possible experiences. Substitute ‘invisible pink unicorn’ for ‘current king of France’. Both the phrases as a whole don’t make sense; they don’t map to anything. Cognitive linguists might consider the first as nonsensical and the second as simply counterfactual. I’m ignoring the possible leeway in the context of the utterance itself (now != 2004 ?).

*Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – coherent: If an argument, set of ideas or a plan is coherent, it is clear and carefully considered, and each part of it connects or follows in a natural or sensible way.

Joe Random is right. Context is everything. If Robespierre had written the following in his diary, the sentence might very well have been true:

"“The current king of France punched me in the mouth today.”

The fact that I can read this sentence today doesn’t interfer with the truth of it.

Of course, Robespierre probably would have said struck instead of punched. And he probably wouldn’t have used the qualifiers current or of France. And considering his influence at the time, he might even have written, “The late King struck me in the mouth today.”

Context issues didn’t occur to me. I wrote that sentence in the late evening of August 26th, 2004.

“More people have been to Russia than I have.”

Is that a coherent sentence? I’ve always wondered about it, because it seems morphologically and syntactically okay but semantically meaningless.

If too bad hijack, never mind.

It’s a coherent statement with a nonexistent referent, and hence false.

Swapping it back over to math for a second, “All prime numbers between 24 and 28 are even factors of 1,000” – true, false, or incoherent? And why is that answer the correct one?

It’s coherent, and true. It’s true because there are no prime numbers between 24 and 28. It does not imply that there are any such numbers: it just says that if any such numbers exist, they have a particular property.

Similarly, the following statement is coherent and true:

Every person who is the current king of France punched Ultrafilter in the mouth today