Peter telling about his life to Regina:

Peter: Well, in this highly competitive world when a man has no profession, there isn't much choice so I began looking for people who had more money than they needed including some they'd barely miss.

Regina: You mean you're a thief?

Peter: Well, that's not exactly the term I'd have chosen but it sort of captures the spirit of the thing.

Regina: I don't believe it.

Peter: I can't really blame you now.

Regina: But I do believe it. That's what I don't believe.

  • The first sentence is a statement of fact that she believes him. The second sentence states that it is this fact she cannot believe.
    – D. Nelson
    Aug 12, 2017 at 12:17
  • She could have just said "I can't believe I believe it."
    – user3169
    Aug 12, 2017 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


The expression I don’t believe X (or I can’t believe X) doesn't always mean that you literally do not believe X: more often it expresses surprise or shock or dismay at discovering that X is true.

In this case, Peter has just told Regina that he is a professional thief. Regina reacts by saying "I don't believe it", and then clarifies that statement by drawing precisely the distinction I describe above: she does ‘believe’ what he has said in the sense that she accepts it as a fact but doesn’t ‘believe’ it in the sense that she is dismayed by the fact.

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