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How should I punctuate "it doesn't matter if you're [blank]" to disambiguate the following two sentences:

  1. Q: "Which hand should I use to shoot a basketball?"
    A: "It doesn't matter if you're ambidextrous." (if your right hand is as good as the left, you can use either one)

  2. Q: "Will I be a better cook if I'm ambidextrous?"
    A: "It doesn't matter if you're ambidextrous." (motor skills will not improve your cooking)

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Your question is unclear. Which sentence's punctuation are you talking about? –  user20934 Jun 18 '12 at 12:54
    
The sentence "it doesn't matter if you're ambidextrous." I'm rather confused as to what's unclear about that. –  paul Jun 18 '12 at 12:56
    
Both your answers are same. What's the difference between their punctuations? –  user20934 Jun 18 '12 at 12:58
    
They're the same because I left out all (potential) punctuation because I don't know how to punctuate them, which is why I asked the question in the first place. The respective intended meanings should be clear from the context given by the question and the parenthesized clarification. For the extra effort I put in to clarify my question, I'm pretty taken aback by your response. –  paul Jun 18 '12 at 13:01
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Some things can be disambiguated with punctuation, and some can't. He shoots his gun probably means that he pulls the trigger on his firearm, but it could mean that he sets his gun on a stand, and uses it as a target. There are times we must rely on context to remove potential ambiguity. –  J.R. Jun 18 '12 at 14:26

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In question 1, the answer should be "It doesn't matter, if you are ambidextrous", which means, if your precision is the same with both hands, you can use either one or the other. In the case of basketball, "it doesn't matter if you are ambidextrous" is wrong, because your hability with your hands is determinant of whether or not the choice of which hand to use is important. For example, if you were not ambidextrous the answer could be "Use your right hand, if you are right handed"

In question 2, the answer should be "It doesn't matter if you are ambidextrous", because there's no value for the cooking wheter you use one hand or the other, if your coordination is more precise with one or the other. Whether you are ambidextrous, right handed or left handed, it doesn't matter which hand you use.

(But, actually, motor skills could affect the quality of cooking in special cases... I'm only referring to the sense you pointed out)

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If you stick a comma after the "matter", the first meaning is the only one possible:

It doesn't matter, if you're ambidextrous.

I don't think there's any way to single out only the second meaning using punctuation. You could replace "if" by "whether" to single out this meaning.

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both are possible and depend on the case, the comma would make a difference. –  Tames Jun 18 '12 at 21:05

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