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While reading the book "Getting to YES" by Roger Fisher and William Ury, I came across this sentence on page 22:

Another reason that substanssive issues become entangled with psychological ones is that people draw from comments on substance unfounded inferences, ...

I am unsure how to interpret the last part: substance unfounded inferences. What does this mean?

Oxford dictionary defines:

Unfounded: Having no foundation or basis in fact.

Inference: A conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning.

And I have thought of two ways to interpret what substance unfounded inferences mean:

  • Conclusions reached on a wrong perception of the substance.
  • Conclusions reached without basis in the substance.

Can anyone explain this to me?

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I think you're not reading the sentence as the writer intended. The sentence is not well-written. If we re-arrange the order of the clauses it might make more sense:

Here's the original:

Another reason that substanssive issues become entangled with psychological ones is that people draw from comments on substance unfounded inferences.

This is easier to understand:

Another reason that substanssive issues become entangled with psychological ones is that people draw unfounded inferences from comments on substance.

As you can see now, "on substance" modifies "comments," not "inferences." There is no easy way to know this, except that as a native speaker I know that "substance unfounded inferences" doesn't make sense, and so I looked for different ways the phrasing could be split. It is really the fault of the writer to use sentence construction that could be misread in the way you misread it.

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