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I have been following cine21's twitter and came across this tweet and am interested in this use of 는지도 모르다. I have read howtostudykorean.com's entry on 는지(도) 모르다 but am slightly confused when the pattern is used with 이다 since they don't provide any examples of 이다 used without a question word. So the sentence is

그러나 어쩌면 <미치지 않고서야>의 진짜 주인공은 이처럼 서로 다른 욕망과 일해야 할 이유를 가진 인물들로 구성된 회사라는 유기체 자체인지도 모르겠다.

I would like to know if what is being stated here is:

  1. They don't know if it is x (i.e. they don't know whether or not it is x)
  2. They don't know that it is x (the subject does not know it is x, but I know it is x)
  3. They don't even know it is x
  4. They don't even know that it is x

I suspect the answer is 4, but I am slightly confused. Any help and I would be thankful.

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  • In the example provided '주인공은' is the subject, right? According to howtostudykorean, (I've added a hyperlink above) adding 도 to 인지 means that, among others things, they do not know of the thing stated i.e. 'do not even know that'. It does not seem to make much sense in this case though, hence my question to confirm my understanding
    – Ubz
    Jul 25 at 15:11
  • Okay, I moved the comment to an extended answer.
    – krim
    Jul 25 at 15:58
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It's a very common pattern for hedging an opinion, can be interpreted I think X. Because this pattern is used to express subjective opinion, the subject is almost always "I" and usually dropped.

More concretely, a direct translation of the sentence in question would be something like

However, (I) don't know for sure if the real protagonist of <미치지 않고서야> is the company which is a social organism of mixed desires and motivations.

But the speaker is actually trying to say,

However, I think that the real protagonist of <미치지 않고서야> is the company which is a social organism of mixed desires and motivations.

Notice that the sentence has subordinate structure, and the subject (or topic) of the subordinate clause is 주인공, while the subject of thinking / not-knowing (main verb) is dropped.

Without -도, this hedging pattern barely works, and when it works it works in the opposite way. Let's take a set of examples from the page the OP linked.

  • 엄마가 올지 모르겠어요 = I don’t know if mom will come
  • 엄마가 올지도 모르겠어요 = I don’t even know if mon come will come

I actually think the second sentence above is another hedging expression. Of course, the translation above is accurate, and you can use -도 for emphasis in this case, but it sounds more natural as a hedge than an emphasis. Thus, in the second sentence, the speaker actually thinks mom is more likely to come, or at least s/he wants the listener to think that s/he's pretty sure their mom will come. On the other hand, without -도, the first sentence could be merely a factual statement (that the speaker is uncertain about what to happen in the future), or even sometimes it carries somewhat negative nuance, often with a sense of resignation or frustration. So with that subtle difference in mind, the same set of sentences can be used for different hedging strategies.

  • 엄마가 올지 모르겠어요 = (I really wish she's here but) I can hardly think mom's going to make it.
  • 엄마가 올지도 모르겠어요 = (I didn't expect but) I think mom's probably coming.

Now, going back to the howtostudykorean lesson, the mom examples are followed by more examples with or without -도. If you take a close look at them, you'll see they have one thing in common; all of their embedded clauses are interrogative (notice interrogative words - 무엇, , 어떻게). As questions cannot be statements or opinions, -지도 모르겠다 pattern in those sentences cannot be hedge, and only can be emphasis on the uncertainty.

Lastly, I want to point out that, just like many other linguistic phenomena, there are no strict rules when applying the patterns and usages above. To that end, I want to leave this last example here. Suppose two thieve are robbing a store, and one is saying this to the other who's cracking the safe.

빨리 해, 경찰 언제 올지 몰라. = Hurry up, the cops will soon storm in.

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  • Thank you for the detailed answer. One last question: does the 지 모르다/지도 모르다 pattern have any difference in nuance here like I had previously learnt? With that I'll upvote and accept the answer. Thanks
    – Ubz
    Jul 27 at 10:01
  • Updated the answer. Hope this doesn't generate more confusions :)
    – krim
    Jul 28 at 5:41
  • Wow, thank you. I've enjoyed your slightly different angle and this helps since there is very little exposition on this nuance on the internet.
    – Ubz
    Jul 28 at 17:15

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