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If said, "I am afraid that Shadow was the thief."

Am I saying, (1) I am sorry to say that or I say with regret that Shadow was the thief. So that, I am definitively saying that Shadow was the thief.

or (2) I have a fear that Shadow was the thief. I am not definitively saying that Shadow was the thief but rather I have a worry or fear that she was the thief.

Or can it be interpreted both ways?

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It could be interpreted both ways depending on context. Without context, I would probably assume the former (I regret to inform you that Shadow was the thief).

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  • Would tone of voice help distinguish which interpretation would be correct? For example, if I said the sentence in a worried tone would the latter interpretation be more likely? Dec 22, 2021 at 19:26
  • @IndiraSingh Yes, tone of voice would certainly clarify (does the person say it while wringing their hands, looking agitated?). But this is also one of those times that we have only one sentence, with no context. People rarely say only a single sentence to each other; the preceding conversation would also clarify the meaning. Dec 22, 2021 at 20:00
  • If we only think that Shadow was the thief, we might say 'I am afraid that Shadow might be the thief'. Dec 22, 2021 at 21:20
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    It may depend on context but it may also depend on the author's origin. In BrE, "I'm afraid that" would almost never be an expression of fear, only one of polite regret. Dec 23, 2021 at 11:05

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