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Hi, Navi,

I agree with Jack that (a) is the correct interpretation, and this is because (1) contains a "that"-content clause embedded in a relative clause. Notice how these sentences are equivalent:

- He didn't know THAT the things he said were untrue = He said things he didn't know were untrue.

For interpretation (b) to be possible, these should be an "if"- or "whether"- clause, and, unlike "that," these conjunctions cannot be tacit if that is the meaning that needs to be conveyed:

- He didn't know IF the things he said were untrue = He said things he didn't know if they were untrue (grammatically dubious)

Do you agree, David, that "if"-content clauses don't work as well as "that"-clauses if embedded in a relative clause?

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator
@navi posted:

1) He said things he didn't know were true.

Can this sentence have two meanings:

a) He said things that were true but he didn't know they were true.''
b) He said things that were untrue and he didn't know whether they were true or not.

For interpretation (b) to be possible, these should be an "if"- or "whether"- clause, and, unlike "that," these conjunctions cannot be tacit if that is the meaning that needs to be conveyed:

- He didn't know IF the things he said were untrue = He said things he didn't know if they were untrue (grammatically dubious)

Do you agree, David, that "if"-content clauses don't work as well as "that"-clauses if embedded in a relative clause?

Hi, Navi and Gustavo,

Yes, I agree with you, Gustavo, that "if"/"whether" clauses don't work as well as "that"-clauses when they are embedded in relative clauses.

Indeed, in generative grammar, embedded questions are ISLANDS, a jargon term for a syntactic entities out of which WH-movement cannot take place.

Thus, not only does the "if"/"whether" interpretation not work as well, but it is actually ungrammatical. Meaning (b) is grammatically impossible. Compare:

(2) *He saw things that he couldn't tell whether you saw.
(3) *He saw things that he couldn't remember what you knew about.

Sentence (3) is arguably worse than (2), both both are bad. Navi, as you know, you can achieve meaning (b) in various ways. Below are two of them:

(4) He said things concerning the truth of which he was uncertain.
(5) He said things about whose truth he was uncertain.

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