The Cooperative Principle and the Four Maxims of Conversation

The Cooperative Principle describes how people work together to communicate. A core part of the Cooperative Principle is how speakers and listeners assume what kind of knowledge each other has and what kind of language to used based on that assumed information.

The Cooperative Principle is not prescriptive; instead it’s just a way to describe and understand how communication often works.

The Cooperative Principle is broken down into four different maxims, called Gricean maxims.

Maxim of quality

Supermaxim

  • Try to make your contribution one that is true.

Generally, when communicating, we have an assumption that each participant is telling the truth.

Submaxims

  • Do not say what you believe is false.

Speakers will not intentionally lie.

  • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Speakers will only provide information that they can provide evidence for. That is, they have a reason to provide the information they provide.

Maxim of quantity

  • Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current conversation, purpose, or situation.

The speaker will provide all the information he or she knows to asker.

  • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

The speaker will not provide extra information that is not needed to complete the current conversation, purpose, or situation.

Maxim of relation (or relevance)

  • Be relevant.

The speaker will only provide information that is related to the current situation. For example, if asked a specific question such as “Do you know John’s phone number,” the response would be related to something similar.

Maxim of manner

Supermaxim

  • Be perspicuous.

Submaxims

  • Avoid obscurity of expression.
  • Avoid ambiguity.
  • Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
  • Be orderly.

What to sound more like a native English speaker?

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