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From the TV series The Good Doctor,

"When people need to know things, they need to know if they don't lie through their teeth and feel good about it."

Do people and they refer to different entities? I understand the sentence to mean that when some people need to know a situation correctly, others should tell the truth.

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    Are you certain that your quote is exactly how it was expressed? As you present it, the quotation is hard to assign a single clear meaning. Nov 26, 2023 at 18:42
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    All I get from that quote is that The Good Doctor is terribly written. Are you sure you have the quote correct? If you're watching via some hooky app, you can't always trust subtitles as they can be AI generated and wrong.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:09
  • There's not enough context to answer the question. Please add the surrounding dialogue. The first "they" seems to refer to people. The second "they" seems to refer to someone else, who is probably clear from context. I tend to disagree with Astralbee. If this is an attempt to create naturalistic speech, this kind of "bad English" is very common, and may be carefully crafted by the writers.
    – James K
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:50
  • As has been aid, this seems to be bad English. The first "they" refers to the earlier "people" but the second "they" seems to refer to some other group. Previous context may make this sound less like gibberish than the isolated sentance. Nov 27, 2023 at 12:14
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    Punctuation matters! Googling these words yields a Twitter—ahem, X—post by the show's account with this: "When people need to know things they need to know. When they don't, lie through your teeth and feel good about it." As two sentences this makes sense. And yes, "people" is the antecedent of "they." Nov 27, 2023 at 21:16

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The quote is in fact two sentences:

When people need to know things they need to know. When they don't, lie through your teeth and feel good about it.

Yes, "they" refers to "people." This is a piece of advice. The speaker is telling the hearer: Tell people the things they need to know. But when they don't have a need to know, lie to them and don't feel guilty.

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