"if" versus "whether"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by LV4-26, Oct 31, 2005.

  1. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    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
  2. kartelite New Member

    USA, English
    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. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    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.
  4. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    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 ?
  5. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    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 :)
  6. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    And if your usage happens to be erroneous...:)
  7. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    English, Hodgepodge
    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.

  8. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    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. :)
  9. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    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....:eek:
  10. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    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.
  11. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    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. Control.Freak New Member

    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."

  13. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    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.
  14. Control.Freak New Member

    Thanks a lot!! :D

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