My son is entering a speech contest. If I want to emphasize to him that it doesn't matter whether he wins first place or not, do the following mean the same?
It doesn't matter

1) if you come in first or not.
2) if you come in first.
3) if you don't come in first.

The 2nd sentence sounds odd to me, but my wife says it's O.K. to her, claiming "if" (w/o "or not") can mean "whether". What do you think?
1 2
My son is entering a speech contest. If I want to emphasize to him that it doesn't matter whether he ... but my wife says it's O.K. to her, claiming "if" (w/o "or not") can mean "whether". What do you think?

My very first reaction was the same as yours. #2 sounded as if there was something wrong with winning, and "we will will love you even if you win."
However, as soon as I read it over once or twice, stressing different words, I was able to get the other meaning for it. When the "if" gets almost no stress, and the "first" only a little stress, then I can imagine the unsaid "or not". The heaviest stress is on "matter."

The stress pattern in the way I described in my first paragraph was more of a heavy "come in first" and a rising tone on the "first."

Arggh, when I keep saying these, those descriptions don't hold up either. Well, there's something subtle in there.
The other day we had something a bit similar, about people worried about whether whales would injure themselves. There may be something about statements of concern and unconcern, that the thing generating the concern (or lack of it) can be phrased either in the positive or negative. Just the sort of thing John Lawler might have worked out once.

Best - Donna Richoux
My son is entering a speech contest. If I want ... (w/o "or not") can mean "whether". What do you think?

My very first reaction was the same as yours. #2 sounded as if there was something wrong with winning, and "we will will love you even if you win."

My reaction was that it could be read as meaning "If you come in first, then something else (unstated in the sentence) doesn't matter." For example: "If you come in first, it doesn't matter that you had to skip school for a day to compete." In theory you could read the third sentence the same way, but it's hard to do so and get a logical result.
Although "if" is not incorrect in any of the three sentences, it's potentially misleading in the second (see above), and IMO "whether" is preferable in all three. The third is clunky either way.

Bob Lieblich
Not that it matters
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
My son is entering a speech contest. If I want to emphasize to him that it doesn't matter whether he ... but my wife says it's O.K. to her, claiming "if" (w/o "or not") can mean "whether". What do you think?

It seems to me that the phrase "it doesn't matter" does not do well in the situation. Obviously if your son enters a competition, what happens there does matter - at least to him, and hopefully, to you. What you probably want to say is that the outcome will not affect your affection for him.
Jan Sand
The inimitable (Email Removed) (sklin) stated one day
My son is entering a speech contest. If I want to emphasize to him that it doesn't matter whether he ... but my wife says it's O.K. to her, claiming "if" (w/o "or not") can mean "whether". What do you think?

I agree with the other two posters about #2. Whenever I edit articles, I always change the "if" to "whether" in sentences like these. I agree with your wife that "if" can mean "whether", but it doesn't quite work here.
Use "whether" and you cannot go wrong.
I would also change "come in first" to "win". Not only is it shorter and simpler, but it does not imply that second or third would be acceptable but fourth to last would not.
I see that you are posting from Taiwan, where I live and teach speech at a university down south. There are many other things that might be good to tell your son about speech contests. Things like Hide your fear; Forget yourself and concentrate on what you want to say to your audience; and Enjoy yourself while delivering your speech.
My son is entering a speech contest. If I want to emphasize to him that it doesn't matter whether he ... but my wife says it's O.K. to her, claiming "if" (w/o "or not") can mean "whether". What do you think?

How about 'We're very proud of you for taking part in this. The result isn't the most important thing'

John Dean
Oxford
De-frag to reply
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
it the

My very first reaction was the same as yours. #2 ... and "we will will love you even if you win."

My reaction was that it could be read as meaning "If you come in first, then something ... misleading in the second (see above), and IMO "whether" is preferable in all three. The third is clunky either way.

I find #1 and #3 odd for logical reasons. Both sentences are idiomatic and have meanings that are unlikely to be disputed, regardless of the fact that they both contain double negatives. Logically, sentence #1 is nonsense.

Maybe, it's too early in the morning for I.
My very first reaction was the same as yours. #2 ... and "we will will love you even if you win."

My reaction was that it could be read as meaning "If you come in first, then something ... misleading in the second (see above), and IMO "whether" is preferable in all three. The third is clunky either way.

Whilst agreeing with what both you and Donna said, I would leave out the 'in' in all the sentences. Not that's it's wrong, but it seems unidiomatic to me.

Rob Bannister
My reaction was that it could be ... preferable in all three. The third is clunky either way.

Whilst agreeing with what both you and Donna said, I would leave out the 'in' in all the sentences. Not that's it's wrong, but it seems unidiomatic to me.

Hey! We're not talking about that kind of coming.
Skitt (in Hayward, California)
www.geocities.com/opus731/
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Show more