English edit

Etymology edit

counter- +‎ factual

Pronunciation edit

  • (Canada) IPA(key): /ˌkaʊntɚˈfæktʃuəl/
  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˌkaʊn.tə(ɹ)ˈfæk.tʃu.əl/
  • (file)

Adjective edit


  1. Contrary to known or agreed facts; untrue.
    Synonym: contrafactual
  2. Of or in comparison to a hypothetical state of the world.
    • 2014 September 15, Martin Gayford, “There's more to Ming than a vase [print version: 16 August 2014, pp. R6–R7]”, in The Daily Telegraph (Review)[1]:
      What would have happened if those great Chinese voyages [by Zheng He] had continued? It's one of those questions in counter-factual history about which it is impossible to be sure.
    • 2019 April 11, Marcel Theroux, “Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan review – intelligent mischief”, in The Guardian[2]:
      The counterfactual 1982 of the novel plays variations on our historical record and contains clear allusions to the present.

Translations edit

Noun edit

Examples (linguistics)
  • If I had arrived on time . . .

counterfactual (plural counterfactuals)

  1. A claim, hypothesis, or other belief that is contrary to the facts.
  2. A hypothetical state of the world, used to assess the impact of an action.
    • 2004 September 5, Laura Miller, “Imagine”, in The New York Times[3], →ISSN:
      Just as counterfactuals employ too much imagination to qualify as historical works, alternate history often labors under too great a load of artificial "facts" to take flight as fiction.
    • 2010 September 1, Ross Douthat, “Iraq in the Long Run”, in New York Times[4], retrieved 2021-07-15:
      We can spin out complicated counterfactuals that justify the Iraq invasion, and complicated counterfactuals that make it look even worse.
    • 2015 December 3, Lee Drutman, “Here's the real reason we don't have gun reform”, in Vox[5]:
      The implicit counterfactual — that these members would support gun control if not for the $1,000 they received from the NRA — seems unlikely to me.
    • 2016 February 11, Noah Berlatsky, quoting Neal Roese, “'What if?': Why we can't get enough of counterfactual shows”, in The Guardian[6]:
      Roese also says counterfactuals can serve emotional purposes. You can think about how things could have been worse, and so feel better about yourself, and grateful for where you are.
    • 2021 May 14, Dashiell Young-Saver, “The Math of Ending the Pandemic: Exponential Growth and Decay”, in The New York Times[7], →ISSN:
      Imagine a counterfactual in which we started relaxing restrictions at an even earlier time, just as the cases began to trend downward.
  3. (linguistics, philosophy) A conditional statement in which the conditional clause is false.

Derived terms edit

See also edit

Further reading edit