I often read or hear statements like "Joe robbed the bank because I saw him running away with the money." Clearly, the literal interpretation is not the intended meaning and there is an understood "I know/state/believe this" before the "because."

Today I came across similar wording in a new ad campaign:

"If you have seen AT&T's recent advertising campaign, someone is obviously worried."

My first thought is, "well what if I haven't seen it?" Here, "then you (should) know" is apparently implied.

I don't recall this topic coming up in school, but then I wasn't the best English student. Is this implied phrasing (in formal terms) correct? Is there a specific word to describe it?

  • If you think that’s bad, you should see what passes for English in text messages. And yes, that was intended to be an illustration of the effect you appear to dislike. In answer to your question, yes, I think you had probably best get over it.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 15:47
  • 2
    Welcome to English Language & Usage. This is an unconstructive question: in the words of the FAQ, a rant disguised as a question. Incidentally: there is nothing grammatically wrong with such constructions. And language is full of expressions for which it is true that the literal interpretation is not the intended meaning.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 16:52
  • I sincerely did not intend this as a rant disguised as a question. Perhaps presenting the question the way I did made it seem so. I honestly believed that there might be some specific terminology for logically inconsistent wording as given in the examples. Generally, cases such as an if/then where the "then" does not directly follow the "if." Or the "because" does not support the premise. Perhaps this is more semantics, rather than grammar, and that is why it's not appropriate?
    – Todd H
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 17:13
  • I'm new to this website and I did read the FAQ before posting and did believe the post to be appropriate. But, judging from the comments of a couple of seasoned veterans, I should have spent some more time just lurking before stepping up and asking a question. Thanks for the input.
    – Todd H
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 17:15
  • 2
    Apparently the phrases "I often get annoyed" and "I was provoked to ask" are a dog whistles here. You might want to remove or edit that type of language. Other than that, it looks like a reasonable question about implicit vs. explicit meaning. Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 17:31

1 Answer 1


You are questioning the logical validity of the statements. Logical arguments (even if they have one premise and one conclusion) should be precisely worded or their validity can easily be questioned.

Take your first example, about Joe robbing a bank. The explicit meaning is that Joe did something because you did something. This is not a logical argument with a premise and conclusion at all. (It's the same form as "I used cream because you used all of the milk." There is no premise-conclusion formulation.)

If you want to infer a missing "I know that" or (equivalently) "I conclude that" to the front of the statement, it becomes a logical argument. This doesn't mean its a valid argument, though. If it's not a valid argument, then it's known as a logical fallacy.

Interestingly, logical fallacies can be categorized based on interpretation of language and how it's used. The site Logical Fallicies has a lot of information on this, and it's worth reading.

Your example of Joe robbing the bank might be considered a logical fallacy of equivocation. (I'm not a logician, so there might be a better category for this.) Equating "running away with" to "stealing" assumes there is no other explanation for Joe to be running away with the money.

Making business decisions depend on good reasoning, based on sound (valid) arguments, but decisions are sometimes based on business intuition (a combination of risk taking and experience). You second example might be inferred be identical to:

"If you have seen AT&T's recent advertising campaign, then you know that someone (at At&T) is obviously worried."

Even though this, by itself, is a logical fallacy (there might be some other explanation for the campaign), it wouldn't necessarily be a meaningless statement. There may be enough context that a logically valid argument could be made. Hearing it at a business meeting, a manager may choose to react a certain way based on this information coupled with his own knowledge of the situation at AT&T.

Does it matter, and should you just ignore it? It's good to understand that in some circumstances, knowing how to spot a logical fallacy can be important. In legal matters, precise language is always important, and a logical fallacy can be the basis for a case being dropped "due to a technicality".

The answer to the question in your title is that it depends on the circumstances. But inferring meaning runs the risk that is is inferred incorrectly. If you're just reading an advertisement, then is doesn't matter. If you're reading your own bill of indictment, you need to understand words and the concept of logical fallacy.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful response. You've helped break it down a bit. It's the inference that the listener is required to make (as you made explicit in the 3rd and 7th paragraph) that I'm especially perplexed about, rather than the logical fallacy that it creates. But I get the feeling that is simply a case of implied text and is to be expected in English; the same as an implied subject that I learned about in grammar school, and, as you pointed out, the meaning must be derived from the context.
    – Todd H
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 22:16
  • The point is that althoulh it may be implied, you are under no obligation to infer it as such. Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 23:35

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