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Thread: "if" versus "whether"

  1. #1
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    "if" versus "whether"

    Hello there,

    I normally word sentences like this
    I want to know whether (or not) it's likely to be heard.
    without thinking too much about it.

    I assume (but am I right in doing so ?)many English speakers would use "if" instead.
    I want to know if it's likely to be heard.

    1. Is one more correct than the other ?
    2. Is it a matter of formality ?
    3. Is it one those BE vs AE affairs ?
    4. Is the "or not" I put between brackets optional or compulsory ?

    Thanks a lot in advance
    Jean-Michel
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them....well, I have others." (Groucho Marx).

  2. #2
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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    I'd say that the way the statement is normally intended, there is no difference. I think that either of these 5 choices is acceptable:

    I want to know whether (or not) it's likely to be heard.

    I want to know whether it's likely to be heard or not.

    I want to know if it's likely to be heard (or not).



    However, I think there is an intricacy with the if statement--you are technically saying you want to know, that is you want to be informed if something happens. That is, if it's likely to be heard you want to be informed of it--but if you don't specify what you want to have happen in the case that it's not likely to be heard then the person you're addressing is not obligated to inform you of that.

  3. #3
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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Found in a style guide of a university: the word if expresses a condition. The word whether expresses an alternative. Do not use the phrase or not following whether. Their example uses an if-then statement as the appropriate context for use of if.

    I take this to mean that whether is correct in your sentence, and it is the one I'd personally choose. You'd use if for
    If it is likely to be heard, (then) be ready to run. Then is optional, and would usually be omitted.

    In practice, in AE, if is frequently used in place of whether.

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Thanks all
    Now correct me if I'm wrong.

    - In formal English I should use "whether".

    - I've done a little google test and "don't know if" gets 7 times more hits than "don't know whether" whence I infer This leads me to think that
    - I should preferably use "if" in everyday conversation if I want to speak the same language as the people I'm with.
    (btw, will they think I'm landing from Mars if I don't ? - while I'm really landing from Zeta II as you all know - )

    - This seems to be true in America at least.

    Now what's it to be for Britain ?
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them....well, I have others." (Groucho Marx).

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    i say that there is very little difference in this respect. maybe we use whether a little more. i know i do, but its hard to judge trends when really all you have to go on is your own usuage
    My spelling isn't bad, you fascist mouron, it's innovattive - anon

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Quote Originally Posted by Benjy
    i say that there is very little difference in this respect. maybe we use whether a little more. i know i do, but its hard to judge trends when really all you have to go on is your own usuage
    And if your usage happens to be erroneous...

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    It depends on what you want. I notice when people say "if" when they should say "whether," and I have heard people correct themselves when they say "if" when a "whether" was warranted.

    Z.
    Be still, thou poodle.
    -Goethe

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Quote Originally Posted by JLanguage
    And if your usage happens to be erroneous...
    That wouldn't be a problem. A usage doesn't claim to be more than what it is. The real problem would be if it were only his and nobody else's.
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them....well, I have others." (Groucho Marx).

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    I don't think that using whether correctly sounds weird or excessively fussy/pedantic. (Not in the way that "whence I infer" does.)

    But consider the source....

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Ok, thanks, I think I see. Somewhere in the middle, not very formal. Something that may be noticed when it comes up (except probably in an educated environment) but won't distract people's attention from the rest of what you're saying.
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them....well, I have others." (Groucho Marx).

  11. #11
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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelly B
    Found in a style guide of a university: the word if expresses a condition. The word whether expresses an alternative. Do not use the phrase or not following whether. Their example uses an if-then statement as the appropriate context for use of if.

    I take this to mean that whether is correct in your sentence, and it is the one I'd personally choose. You'd use if for
    If it is likely to be heard, (then) be ready to run. Then is optional, and would usually be omitted.

    In practice, in AE, if is frequently used in place of whether.
    That style guide has not filtered through to the University of Oxford.
    "whether or not" can be found here: http://www.ox.ac.uk/copyright/

    I go for clarity, and so I prefer to use "whether" for alternatives.

  12. #12
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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Can I use "whether" with more options or should it be used between just two of them?

    "Whether it's country, desert or coast, environmental context determines the essence of every architectural project."

    Thanks

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    That's fine. Just as 'alternative' does not necessarily mean there are only two choices, the word that offers alternative choices - 'whether' - is not limited to two options.

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    Re: "if" versus "whether"

    Quote Originally Posted by Andygc View Post
    That's fine. Just as 'alternative' does not necessarily mean there are only two choices, the word that offers alternative choices - 'whether' - is not limited to two options.
    Thanks a lot!!

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