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Suppose we have the following sentences:

John believes that people are good.

Steve knows that France is in Europe.

Now, in these sentences we have some clause (e.g. People are good, France is in Europe), and some "source" testifying about this clause (John, Steve) which give different degrees of certainty (belief, knowing).

Is there some clause/sentential structure or syntactical pattern for this?

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  • "I suspect that Riquewihr Village is in France", "I believe that Riquewihr Village is in France", "I'm fairly sure that Riquewihr Village is in France" and "I'm certain that Riquewihr Village is in France" show (assuming truthfulness) different levels of speaker confidence about the accuracy of the statement in the complement clause. This is the domain of modality (and hedging). Feb 8, 2022 at 19:57

1 Answer 1

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Both varieties have the same syntactic structure. The difference is lexical, semantic, and pragmatic.

Mental process verbs like believe and think take complements describing the mentation. They don't say much about the truth of that mentation, as you point out.

However, a special type of mental process predicate doesn't simply describe a proposition; it presupposes it. A presupposition of a sentence is something that must be true in order to understand the sentence.

These predicates are called Factive predicates, and know, realize, and discover are examples. Thus, John knows that France is in Europe presupposes that France is in Europe. And so does John doesn't know that France is in Europe. What John knows is irrelevant to what the facts are.

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