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a. I'm surprised that June did that.

b. I'm surprised that June might have done that.

Is there a difference between the meanings of (a) and (b)?

I think (b) implies that the speaker hardly believes that June did that, knowing full well that she did.

It could have another meaning too. It could mean that the speaker has learned that June might have done that and is surprised by that (by the very possibility of June doing that).

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    In the first one June definitely did it, but in the second one she might not have done it. Dec 22, 2023 at 20:46
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    @JohnGordon Yes, indeed… and isn't that based much more on logic than on language? Dec 23, 2023 at 1:09
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    No, and it isn’t that simple; no more than that ‘that she might have said that’ is a Question. ‘I’m surprised that June did that’ is not grammatically wrong but idiomatically, dropping the first ‘that’ to give instead ‘I’m surprised June did that’ would be more natural. ’I’m surprised that June might have done that’ seems unnatural You might get more sympathy by rephrasing ‘(b) implies that the speaker hardly believes that June did that, knowing full well that she did’ and that’s not very likely. I for one fail to see how your ‘other meaning’ is different. Dec 23, 2023 at 1:10
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    @RobbieGoodwin No, because the second says "might" and the first one doesn't. Dec 23, 2023 at 1:30
  • No, because you're getting hung up on the might. Several here have already misinterpreted that, as with eg, June for some reason, didn't do whatever. That's not the case at all. a. Is - just, and then mostly by assumption of unstated context - positive. b. By no means makes the meaning negative; it merely makes it uncertain, which is not the same thing. This is further confused by 'the speaker hardly believes that June did that, knowing full well that she did.' Still, when did you last hear either formation, in speech or writing? Dec 24, 2023 at 17:57

3 Answers 3

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a. seems simple and plain.

b. seems rather garbled, and typical of unrehearsed speech, it could be from a mix up with "surprised that she could have done that" and the fact "might have" and "could have" are very similar in other senses.

I don't think that b has a readily determined meaning.

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    Agreed on B. You can be surprised that someone thinks June might have done that, but otherwise there's nothing to be surprised about. It makes no more sense than I'm surprised I might win the lottery.
    – TimR
    Dec 25, 2023 at 19:23
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a) The speaker is aware that June did something, but is surprised by the fact that they did it

b) The speaker is aware that June may have done something, but however they learned this information, they're skeptical of it. If June had done something, the speaker is shocked by it.

I think your intuition is right except that there's no requirement for the speaker to know that June did something, only for them to be skeptical of June having done it.

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A means you're surprised by the fact June did that.

B means that you're surprised by the fact that June might do smth but, for some reason, didn't do it

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