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I want to explain my problem with the following sentence:

No one knows if the excited stammerer knew of the earlier word, or simply made a mistake or if the story was just a clever marketing ploy of Lowe's.

We know that, when a clause starts with if that this clause acts a dependent clause. But in that example there has two dependent clauses. Is it possible?

Would anybody like to give some examples of this kind of sentences? At the same time, I have failed to realize the meaning of the cited sentence.

  • Put back the "if he" before "simply" that was left out of the sentence. Does that help? – Peter Shor Mar 9 '15 at 14:49
  • substitute "if he simply" for "or simply". – Centaurus Mar 9 '15 at 14:51
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    There is no limit to the number of dependent (subordinate) clauses there can be in a sentence. All the sentence needs is comma intonation -- and, in print, a comma to represent it -- after mistake. If is retained to flag the last clause, where conjunction reduction has not deleted an identical subject -- i.e, the excited stammerer is the subject of the first two disjuncts linked with or, though it's deleted in the second one; but the subject of the last clause is a different noun phrase, the story. – John Lawler Mar 9 '15 at 15:39
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There is only one dependent clause (which below I've abbreviated DC). The general rule for conjunction is that the category for the entire conjoined constituent is the same as the categories for each of the constituents that are conjoined. Here, in construction with "knows", we have a DC, and that DC is of the form: DC or DC. In bracketed form, it's:

No one knows [DC [DC if the excited stammerer knew of the earlier word, or simply made a mistake ] or [DC if the story was just a clever marketing ploy of Lowe's ] ].

Although it's not what you're asking about, there is another instance of this within the first of the conjoined (or "disjoined") DCs. The subject is "the excited stammerer" and the (single) VP is "knew of the earlier word, or simply made a mistake", which VP consists of two VPs connected by "or":

[VP [VP knew of the earlier word ] or [VP simply made a mistake ] ]

(The comma before the first "or" makes me uneasy. Perhaps it would be better moved to before the second "or".)

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