2

Which of these sentences is better and why?:

a) Wenn ich nur gewusst hätte, dass man hier nicht parken darf!

Or:

b) Wenn ich nur wüsste, dass man hier nicht parken darf!

4

Let's first remove the subjunctive as a source of trouble.

  1. a. Ich habe gewusst, dass man hier nicht parken darf.
    b. Ich habe nicht gewusst, dass man hier nicht parken darf.
  2. a. Ich weiß, dass man hier nicht parken darf.
    b. *Ich weiß nicht, dass man hier nicht parken darf.

The first sentence is fine with or without negation. It presupposes that, at the time of utterance, you know the proposition expressed by the subordinate clause to be true, i.e. you know that parking is not allowed.

However, 2b is infelicitous. The reasons for this is that the presupposition just mentioned is violated: it is explicitly stated that the truth of the proposition expressed by the subordinate clause is unknown at the time of utterance.

In order to render 2b acceptable all you have to do is substitute ob for dass; ob does not come with the presupposition of knowing whether the proposition expressed by the subordinate clause is true (rather, it is used to express that the truth of the proposition is unknown).

Ich weiß nicht, ob man hier parken darf.

Now the only thing that changes with the subjunctive is that the negation is hidden.

  1. a. Wenn ich nur gewusst hätte (past), dass man hier nicht parken darf!
    b. *Wenn ich nur wüsste (present), dass man hier nicht parken darf!

The subjunctive presupposes that the proposition expressed by the matrix clause is false, i.e. 3a presupposes that you didn't know at some earlier point in time and 3b that you don't know currently.

It is obvious that 3b corresponds to 2b, which means that substituting ob for dass makes it acceptable:

Wenn ich nur wüsste, ob man hier parken darf!

0

Both are perfectly fine, but their meaning is different.

a) If I had only known that it is not permitted to park here.
I.e. I did not know before (back in the past) that parking is not permitted here, but now I know and I'd have liked to have known that before.

b) If I only knew that it is ...
I.e. I do not know now that (whether) parking is (not) permitted here. But I'd like to know that it isn't.

b) is slightly unusual in that people do not usually care that way to know where to not park - but the positive constructions "dass man hier parken darf" would both perfectly usual.

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