Introduction: EQ-5D is an internationally acknowledged tool for assessing health-related quality of life. Our aim was to examine how pragmatic dynamics may influence answers to the EQ-5D-5 L in items where the structure of answer options is disjunctive. Methods: We performed a 3-step linguistic analysis building on the seminal work of Grice, including (1) examination of the lexical meanings of the answer options, (2) considerations of how conversational maxims might affect the respondent’s interpretation of compatible answer options under a single item, and (3) analysis of how the questionnaire’s context might counteract the problem of omitted answer options by shifting the meaning of context-sensitive expressions. Results: All items with disjunctive answer options exhibit both compatibilities and omissions. In combination with the disjunctive form of answer options these features of the EQ-5D-5 L complicates the communicative task for respondents relying on conversational norms to identify the most suitable answers to the instrument’s questions. Discussion: In items where answer options have a disjunctive structure, respondents relying on Gricean conversational maxims will have to depend on their individual understanding of fine-grained details concerning the questionnaire’s purpose and may have to weigh how conflicting norms should be balanced. While such dynamics are likely to go undetected in cognitive interviews, linguistic analysis may help to identify them.
- Context sensitivity
- Gricean pragmatics