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(This question arose because on some other SE many of us tried to translate this expression. It turns out it was not so easy, and it would certainly help if we had a better grasp on it.)

I believe this expression can be used with two different purposes, but I might be wrong. Am I right to assume it can be used:

  1. a. To express a doubt about a given hypothesis:

    Some say they are professionals, though you wouldn't think it from the way they acted.

    b. Or sometimes to doubt about the legitimacy/value of an hypothesis:

    It turns out they are professionals, though you wouldn't think it from the way they acted.

  2. To warn about (or notice) a possible prejudice:

    They truly are capable, though you wouldn't think it from the way they acted.

?

If I'm right, the difference is perceptible because in cases 1. a. and 1. b. the hypothesis is weakened whereas in case 2. the hypothesis is strengthened.

Also, in the light of a related question, it seems that no difference of meaning arise directly from a choice between pronouns it and that to refer to a main clause. However my feelings tell me that that could a better fit for the 1st purpose (especially case b.), and might help to disambiguate when the context fails to do so.

Any comments or further light on the matter would be appreciated!

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Umm, the hypothesis in the second one is also weakened by the phrase. I can't see how you get that it's strengthened. –  American Luke Sep 19 '12 at 21:30
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I fail to see a fundamental difference between 1b and 2. In fact it is exactly one word, professionals vs. capable — both of them with a positive connotation, so whatever "though you wouldn't think it" does to one of them, it must also do to the other. –  RegDwigнt Sep 19 '12 at 21:32
    
@Reg: would “It turns out they are professionals” makes it clearer that the speaker is surprised they are, and think they are poor professionals? –  Stéphane Gimenez Sep 19 '12 at 21:36
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I think this is General Reference. The term "though you wouldn't think it" has a clear, invariant, and literal meaning - whatever follows it is a counterargument against what came before. Usually, "what came before" is a contextually-established fact that can't be refuted. The statement merely flags up that appearances can be deceptive. But in certain contexts (such as OP's first example) the preceding statement may not be true, and you might be right not to think it is. –  FumbleFingers Sep 19 '12 at 21:44
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@StéphaneGimenez: Sure, "it turns out they are professionals" is different from "They are professionals", yes. But that has nothing to do with whether or not it is followed by "though you wouldn't think it", or really by any phrase at all. It's different in and of itself. –  RegDwigнt Sep 19 '12 at 21:49
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

All of the above examples use the phrase though you wouldn't think it to denote that there is a disconnect between the qualities in the first clause from the qualities in the second clause. The critical word is though (or often, although).

In each case, the speaker is saying they are being characterized as positive, but they have done something that could, theoretically, bring into question that positive attribute.

The differences in the sentences are in the initial clause that gives a clue (but not necessarily a definitive statement) as to whether the speaker shares the view that they have the positive quality.

Some say is a phrase that distances the speaker from the message. It suggests doubt.

They are professionals is an unambiguous statement of the quality, and the reference to the disconnect merely points out the incorrectness of dismissing the quality based on the disconnect.

They are capable is identical in effect as they are professional. The speaker accepts the positive and acknowledges the (incorrect) negative.

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Do I understand correctly that if someone says “They are professionals, though you wouldn't think it” this person is likely inclined to think they are good professionals. It's not reasonable to think that he rather implies “It's a shame they are professionals”? –  Stéphane Gimenez Sep 19 '12 at 22:05
    
@StéphaneGimenez I think the statement acknowledges that they have the status of professional. The speaker may think that, despite their status, they are not living up to what is expected of that group. The statement "You call yourself a Minister?" would be a challenge to the level of performance, not the legal right to the title. –  bib Sep 19 '12 at 22:18
    
Yes, I had no doubt about this. My question is really the one I ask in the comment just above. (I still don't have an answer). If that sentence is ambiguous, it's not because of the main clause “They are professionals” (which is just a fact), it's because the following phrase has implications which can be interpreted positively or negatively. Well, maybe I should not call it a difference in meaning (?), but that's what I would like to know. Could there be different interpretations? –  Stéphane Gimenez Sep 19 '12 at 22:35
    
@StéphaneGimenez As Luke suggested, the second clause is always negative and undermines either the fact or the value of the first clause. In the two latter examples, there is an ambiguity as to whether the speaker thinks the disconnect conduct should be ignored as not representing the true good quality of they, or whether they's conduct reflects badly on their status. More context would be needed to eliminate the ambiguity. Yes, different interprestations are possible. –  bib Sep 19 '12 at 22:41
    
Thank you that's what I wanted to know. And I also wonder whether the choice of the pronoun (it, that, or maybe so) could help to reduce ambiguity. –  Stéphane Gimenez Sep 19 '12 at 23:08
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