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The phrase 'deliberation related to emotions and values about what’s good and bad' has a potential ambiguity about whether 'emotions' is to be understood generally or as also being about 'what's good and bad.' I want to know the best ways to disambiguate this sentence.

I see that is possible to disambiguate this if one intends the former meaning by using 'deliberation related to emotions and (related) to values about what’s good and bad,' (where I mean 'related' is optional I think) and if one intends the later meaning by using 'deliberation related to emotions about what’s good and bad and values about what’s good and bad' or perhaps 'deliberation related to emotions and values each about what’s good and bad'.

Disambiguating when you intend the first meaning seems to work pretty well, but the second case seems a bit cumbersome.

What do you think about using a comma? I know its not really by the book, but it seems to get the meaning across well. First meaning: 'deliberation related to emotions, and values about what’s good and bad' Second meaning: 'deliberation related to emotions and values, about what’s good and bad'

Is there any other better way to disambiguate that I'm not thinking of?


Follow-up: On second thought, 'deliberations related to', which is the first part of the phrase in question, isn't important to my question and just adds unnecessary complication to the question. I would edit it out and change the sentence to something like this:

I am talking about emotions and values about what's good and bad.

so that the sentence, besides the ambiguity I'm asking about, is clearer; however, I don't want invalidate the answers already given.

  • I don't see why you say deliberation related to emotions, and values about what’s good and bad (with the disambiguating comma) is "not really by the book". If you were speaking, you'd naturally pause there if you wanted the (rather unusual, in this context) alternative meaning. If you simply don't like disambiguating punctuation, how about deliberation related to those emotions and values which are about what’s good and bad OR deliberation related to emotions and those values which are about what’s good and bad? – FumbleFingers Jul 3 '15 at 21:09
  • (Your alternative with the comma after values seems to me to suggest a third alternative, where three main areas are being deliberated.) – FumbleFingers Jul 3 '15 at 21:12
  • Thanks. On second thought, 'deliberations related to', which is the first part of the phrase in question, isn't important to my question and just adds unnecessary complication to the question. I would edit it out and change the sentence to something like 'I am talking about emotions and values about what's good and bad, so that the sentence, besides the ambiguity I'm asking about, is clearer; however, I don't want invalidate the answers given. Senior people on this should feel free to make any changes. – Smithey Jul 4 '15 at 0:49
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I suggest you rephrase if the distinction is important to you:

"deliberations about the judgments of which values are good
and bad and the emotions engendered by those judgments"
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To split off "emotions" more distinctly from "values about what's good and bad," you can repeat "about" before the word values, although you'll probably want change the "about" after values to something else, too, to avoid the appearance of three iterations of about in the space of six words:

I am talking about emotions and also about values regarding what's good and bad.

In the opposite case, if you want to bring "emotions" and "values" more clearly together as being jointly related to the phrase "about what's good and bad," you can try something like this:

I am talking about both emotions and values in connection with a person's ideas regarding what's good and bad.

  • Your suggestion in the first case avoids ambiguity entirely. It seems like your suggestion in the opposite case does so almost entirely but arguably could still be read as having 'in connection with a person's ideas regarding what's good and bad' apply only to 'values' and not to 'emotions'. Do you disagree? – Smithey Jul 5 '15 at 16:56
  • @AlSamer: In retrospect, I'm not terribly happy with the stilted way that my second option reads, anyway. Maybe this would work better: "I am talking about emotions and values as both things relate to a person's ideas of what's good and bad." – Sven Yargs Jul 5 '15 at 18:02

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