Threats have been described as “an unwelcome promise” (Grant, 1949: 362). In this sense, a threat is a commissive speech act whose illocutionary purpose is express a future consequence for the recipient under a certain condition in order to encourage the hearer not to make that condition true (Searle, 1969; Blanco Salgueiro, 2010). In contrast to promises, the future action is not to the benefit of the hearer and the proposition may be impolite. Threats are typically given as warnings or as reactions (Brenes Peña, 2009: 43-44). Threats display power when the hearer has done nothing to warrant the threat, as in the case of a bully picking on a peer (Blanco Salgueiro, 2010: 217). Additionally, threats can indicate possible acts of vengeance, which would have the perlocutionary effect of making the recipient suffer the anticipation of a disfavorable event.


With respect to its structure, threats are similar to promises in that the IFID may be expressed directly (e.g., "(I promise that) I'll kill you!"; "If they make me head of the department, I'll make life impossible for you." or mmetaphorically ("I'll have your guts for garters!") (Blanco Salgueiro, 2010). While promises conditionally or unconditionally commit the speaker to doing something, threats act as directives toward the hearer not to do something by expressing the promised consequence given a condition. Therefore, threats can only appear as the conditional type of commissives.

Threats Across Languages and Examples

In English, conditional threats with directive components are common (e.g., If you don’t give me the money, I’ll shoot you.). (Blanco Salgueiro, 2010; Grant, 1949). In Peninsular Spanish, threats can be delivered in como constructions (e.g., como te coja, te voy a reventar la cara), cuando constructions (e.g., cuando te pesque, te mato), and immediate future constructions (e.g., hijo de puta, te voy a partir la cara) (Brenes Peña, 2009: 39).