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I have two people. Fred knows something about X. Jim is curious how much Fred knows. Fred has also made some wrong assumptions about X.

In describing the scene, I wrote this:

Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped he knew, and had made some wrong assumptions.

Then I thought about whether the pronouns and ordering had made it ambiguous. In the sentence, is it clear that hopes are Jim's, but they are hopes about Fred's knowledge; and is it clear that the wrong assumptions are (a) part of the "perhaps", and (b) belong to Fred?

In trying to re-write it to make it less ambiguous, I lose some of the flow.

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    I'd suggest: "Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim had hoped he knew; Fred had made some wrong assumptions." – rajah9 Apr 4 '20 at 13:45
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    Your sentence reads like this: Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped Fred knew, and Fred had made some wrong assumptions. You should omit the comma in your version: Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped he knew and had made some wrong assumptions. You could just leave out he knew: Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped and had made some wrong assumptions. – Tinfoil Hat Apr 4 '20 at 15:39
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    I think the original is readily understandable by most native English readers. – Hot Licks Apr 4 '20 at 16:19
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    The only possible "ambiguity" I can see is that in a highly contrived context, it might be we're talking about how much Jim hoped he himself knew, rather than how much he hoped Fred knew. The clause after the comma (which comma is irrelevant to the parsing) can only refer to the possibility of Fred making incorrect assumptions - it's not syntactically credible for anything in that clause to reference Jim. – FumbleFingers Apr 4 '20 at 16:22
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    @TinfoilHat: I'd say it's just a case of "deletion of predictably repeated text", from an underlying Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped he knew, and perhaps Fred had made some wrong assumptions. – FumbleFingers Apr 5 '20 at 11:23
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Your sentence reads like this:

Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped Fred knew, and Fred had made some wrong assumptions.

You should omit the comma in your version:

Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped he knew and had made some wrong assumptions.

If the pronoun still bothers you, you could leave out he knew:

Perhaps Fred didn't know as much as Jim hoped and had made some wrong assumptions.

  • As I need to select an answer from those offered, I would love to know from the downvoter why he/she downvoted. – Stewart Apr 4 '20 at 19:51

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