1.1 Grice’s Cooperative Principle and maxims of conversation

As humans we are social beings and when we talk we usually talk with or to others (unless we do a monologue). Paul Grice, an English language philosophe, argues that speakers intend to be cooperative when they talk. For Grice, cooperative means that the speaker knows that each utterance is a potential interference in the personal rights, autonomy and wishes ( a potential face-threatening act) of the other. That is why we have to shape our utterances in a certain way. Grice formulated the principle of cooperation that underlies conversation, as follows:

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at wich it occurs, by the accepted pupose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged(Grice 1975:45)

Grice’s cooperative principle is a set of norms that are expected in conversations. It consists of four maxims, we have to follow in order to be cooperative and understood:

  • Maxim of quality : As speaker we have to tell the truth or something that is provable by adequate evidence.
  • Maxim of quanity: We have to be as informative as required, we should not say more or less.
  • Maxim of relation: Our response has to be relevant to the topic of discussion.
  • Maxim of manner: We have to avoid ambiguity or obscurity; we should be direct and straightforward.


Yet, successful communication does not only depend on WHAT we are saying but also on HOW we are saying something!