I doubt that/whether/if

quietdandelion

Banned
Formosa/Chinese
I doubt that/whether/if he'll come.
I doubt that/whether/if it was what he wanted.
I do not doubt that/if/whether he will succeed.


Which conjunction in the above samples should I use and why?
This is confusing me when I use doubt in my samples.
Is there a rule of thumb or something that I can go by? Thanks.
 
  • audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Hello,

    As far as I remember from my university lectures, in negative statements doubt is followed by that. In other statements it's followed by if or whether. However, I read somewhere or other that for some speakers it is the latter that is the only correct form.
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In my opinion doubt should not be used either with if, nor with whether. If is a conditional, so there is already doubt, and whether is an alternative which should always be used with or.

    I doubt (that) he will do it = He probably won’t do it.
    I don’t doubt (that) he will do it = He probably will do it.
     

    Zsuzsu

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Hi there,

    I learnt the same as Audiolak:
    Declarative sentences:
    Economists doubt whether interest rates will fall in the near future.
    I doubt if she'll come this evening.
    Ther directors doubt that new machinery is really necessary.
    Negative:
    I don't doubt that there will be more problems.

    (All the examples above are taken from Swan's Practical English Usage.)

    In addition, Swan mentions a third option: no conjunction (in informal style): I doubt he'll have enough money for a holiday.
     
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    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Declarative sentences:
    Economists doubt whether interest rates will fall in the near future.
    I doubt if she'll come this evening.
    Ther directors doubt that new machinery is really necessary.
    Negative:
    I don't doubt that there will be more problems.

    (All the examples above are taken from Swan's Practical English Usage.)

    In addition, Swan mentions a third option: no conjunction (in informal style): I doubt he'll have enough money for a holiday.
    Negative:
    I don't doubt that there will be more problems.= I'm sure there will be more problems - This sentence seems to focus on the actual prediction, rather than the speaker's doubts
    I don't doubt if/whether there will be more problems. - This sentence looks more like a response to the question "Do you doubt if/whether there will be more problems?" and as such rather focuses on whether or not the speaker is actually in doubt.

    Or is the second one grammatically/logically unacceptable at all?
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Or is the second one grammatically/logically unacceptable at all?
    Each will have his own preferences of course, but I have to say that for me the if/whether option really is logically unacceptable. What does if add, and what whether?

    “I doubt if he will come” sounds like a double doubt—the speaker is doubting the conditional, so perhaps it should mean “I suppose so—that he will come.” But that of course would not be the generally understood meaning of the phrase: people would normally take it to mean the opposite.

    The expression with whether is even more... er, doubtful. The word whether is usually accompanied by or or or not, and even if neither of these additions is stated, one or the other is implied. So—what does this mean: “I doubt whether he will come (or not).”? It rather sounds to me as if the speaker of that isn’t much interested one way or the other.

    In a nutshell, then, the way I see it is:
    “I doubt if...” means “I suppose so...”
    “I doubt whether...” means “I couldn’t care less...”

    (Don’t worry though; over the years I’ve got used to people using ‘doubt if’ and ‘doubt whether’, and I do know, now, what they [the people] and they [the expressions] really mean!)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    From the OED:
    doubt
    with clause, introduced by whether, if, that. (Often with but, but that, when the main clause is negative or interrogative)

    The earliest examples are with whether (from the 14th century).
    The first doubt that is dated 1871: clearly a modern development :)

    New Fowler's Modern English Usage tells us more.

    With a positive main clause, whether is normal, less commonly if: I doubt whether ...
    With a negative main clause, that is normal: I don't doubt that ...
    BUT
    "Increasingly, since the last quarter of the 19c or so, doubt has also come to be construed in affirmative sentences in about equal meausure either with a that-clause or with an objective clause not led by a conjunction:"
    I doubt that such an obscure subject would be found fascinating.
    Who can doubt there will be penguins following.
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That’s really interesting, panjandrum—I wasn’t at all familiar with the etymology and evolution. In view these facts, I’ll add one comment to my earlier post (perhaps you can guess...?!):

    Of the many changes that the language has undergone over the years, the evolution of this expression is one of the very few which makes sense and is for the better.

    (Excuse me while I don my flak jacket.)
     

    michael13

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    In my opinion doubt should not be used either with if, nor with whether. If is a conditional, so there is already doubt, and whether is an alternative which should always be used with or.

    I doubt (that) he will do it = He probably won’t do it.
    I don’t doubt (that) he will do it = He probably will do it.
    I doubt we'll have enough money for a holiday=I think we have not.

    I don't doubt we 'll have enough money for a holiday=I don't think we have not

    So does 'I don't doubt that there will be more problems' = There will be more problems?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The rule I follow is this:

    (a) When doubt is being expressed, then there is logically a question in the mind: the speaker is not certain of the facts or the outcome.
    In this case, the correct conjunction is 'whether', which is the standard conjunction to introduce an indirect 'yes or no' question.
    Example: 'I doubt whether the plan will succeed'.
    Pace johndot, there is no need for a following 'or' to be expressed; we understand the sentence as meaning:
    'I am not certain whether the plan will succeed or not'.

    In colloquial use, in such cases, we tend to say 'if' in place of 'whether': 'I doubt if the plan will succeed'.
    This ought not to be done in correct written English.

    (b) When we put the verb 'to doubt' in the negative, then doubt is not being expressed: on the contrary, we are expressing confident belief. In this case, we are dealing not with a question but a statement and we use the conjunction 'that':
    'I do not doubt that the plan will succeed'.

    In case (b), the traditional usage is 'I do not doubt but that the plan will succeed'.
    This may seem old-fashioned nowadays; however, I cannot say but what I do not trot it out from time to time.
     
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    hamlet

    Senior Member
    Français (FR)
    There actually seem to be two slightly different meanings for "I doubt".
    The first might express doubt, as in "I doubt if the plan will succeed", but for some reason it doesn't sound quite right, perhaps due to the fact you would rarely say such a thing. You'd probably be more likely to say "I'm afraid the plan won't succeed", "I wonder if/whether it will succeed", or something like that.
    The second meaning, as in "I doubt (that) the plan will succeed", expresses pessimism more than doubt.

    Can anybody confirm that I'm not mistaken?

    Also, could anybody explain the following formulation in wandle's last post:
    however, I cannot say but what I do not trot it out from time to time.
    I understand the meaning but the syntax not entirely. Didn't he mean to write "I cannot say but that..."?
     
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