Posted by: episystechpubs | July 17, 2013

Editor’s Corner: “If” vs. “Whether”

Good afternoon, fellow travelers. I was reviewing some of the questions I have tucked away in my mailbox, and here are some questions I get a lot:

  • Why did you use the word “whether” instead of “if”?
  • Aren’t “whether” and “if” interchangeable in this sentence?
  • What is the rule about using one instead of the other?

What is the rule? Well, we’ve been doing this for some time now, and you must know that there is never just one rule! Here are a few rules to help you navigate the rough seas of English, from BizWritingTip.com:

  1. If you are expressing a simple condition, use “if.”

    Examples
    If you can’t attend, please let us know. (Contact us only if you can’t attend.)

    If you are going to attend, do you want to carpool? (We won’t expect to carpool, if you are not going.)

  2. Use “whether” if there are two alternatives—even if the alternative is only implied.

    Examples
    Please let us know whether you can attend. (You should let us know your plans either way.)

    Let’s discuss whether this is the right thing to do—or not.

  3. Use “whether” after the infinitive form of a verb. (These are the verbs beginning with “to.”)

    Examples
    I am trying to decide whether I should work overtime.

    I need to know whether we can hire a part-time person for the summer.

  4. “Whether” and “if” are interchangeable if the answer would be yes or no.

    Examples

    She tried to remember whether she had replied to his email. (Yes, she did.)

    She tried to remember if she had replied to his email. (Yes, she did.)

  5. “Whether” and “if” are interchangeable in “whether/or” or “if/or” constructions.

    Examples

    I would like to know if the figures are accurate or they are estimates.

    I would like to know whether the figures are accurate or they are estimates.

Note: “Whether” is considered the more formal word. If you are writing a report or a formal letter and have the option of using “whether” or “if” (rules 4 and 5), I would use “whether.” If you are writing an email or an informal letter and have the option, then use “if.”

Kara Church
Senior Technical Editor
619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773
www.symitar.com

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