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I recently had an argument with a friend around the question "have you ever thought about something?" The question was asked in the context of exploring some life possibilities, such as buying a sports car or moving to a different country. The disagreement was around whether an affirmative answer to the question bears the hidden meaning that the something being considered is something that the person answering actively wants.

To give an example: when asked "have you ever thought about moving to Sweden?", if a person answers in the affirmative, which of the following two meanings best describes their answer?

  • They consider moving to Sweden a practical possibility, and they actually want to do so in the future.
  • The thought has crossed their mind, but nothing can be inferred about whether they want or plan to move to Sweden in the future.

Assume the subject is not currently living in Sweden :)

Question update: Some of you answered that the meaning depends on other factors, such as tone of voice, body language, context, etc. As I said in a comment, to the purposes of this question, ignore such secondary conversational artifacts. They can always extend the range of meaning of any sentence or word, from the "proper" sense, to the complete opposite, such as when being sarcastic (e.g. "Would you like to go to Sweden?" "Yeah, right...") Consequently, the disclaimer "it depends on the tone of voice" can probably be applied to most answers on this site.

To put it another way: assume you read the text, with minimal context. What's the meaning then?

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    The second one of course. The question only talks of "thinking@ of something. – Mo. Jun 14 '14 at 11:19
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Linguistically, only the second form is directly inferrable from the question.

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It depends on the context, and whether or not the 'thing' being considered is practical and feasible. If it's neither, then it's an abstract concept - which can still be considered but in a conceptual form.

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  • Assume the thing is feasible. I edited the question, now it is clearer than before. Actually before I think I was asking the wrong thing :) – Dan Nestor Jun 14 '14 at 8:56
  • In which case they consider the 'thing' practical, but it's not possible to directly infer that they intend to carry it out. So the first section of the first statement holds true, but not necessarily the second. The second statement is incorrect, as an affirmative response infers that they at least have considered it. – BelgianExile Jun 14 '14 at 8:58
  • Wouldn't they considering it still be within the bounds of the second statement? – Dan Nestor Jun 14 '14 at 9:01
  • Yep, you're right. I missed the bit about 'the thought has crossed their mind'. In which case the second statement also hold true. – BelgianExile Jun 14 '14 at 9:07
  • The context that an informed answer here depends on includes the conversation / lack of it before the prompt "Have you ever thought about moving to Sweden?", which will determine whether the question is 'out of the blue' or not. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 14 '14 at 9:44

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