Posted by: episystechpubs | March 11, 2014

Editor’s Corner: “If” and “Whether”

One of the changes I find myself making in a lot of documents is changing the word “if” to “whether.” These words can sometimes be used interchangeably, but not always. Since we are in the business of providing accurate documentation, let’s look at the rules behind the two words and some examples.

· Use if for conditional sentences—Sentences indicating that something might happen when a particular condition is met.

o George doesn’t know if he will leave for the Bahamas on Thursday; it depends on his work schedule. (He may leave Thursday if his work schedule allows.)

· Use whether to indicate a choice between two things.

o George doesn’t know whether he will leave for the Bahamas on Thursday or Friday; it depends on his work schedule. (He might leave on Thursday or Friday.)

In the following example, you could use if or whether interchangeably:

· Example 1

o I don’t know if I like African horned cucumbers; I’ve never had one.

o I don’t know whether I like African horned cucumbers; I’ve never had one.

In both cases, the message is that I haven’t had these cucumbers but I might like them once I try them.

In the following examples, you must choose between if and whether, depending on the meaning you want to impart:

· Example 2

o Mariella doesn’t know if Lola will come to her house for spring break or Easter. (Mariella doesn’t know if Lola is coming for spring break, Easter, or if she is coming at all.)

o Mariella doesn’t know whether Lola will come to her house for spring break or Easter. (Mariella isn’t sure which time Lola will pick for vacation, but it will either be spring break or Easter.)

· Example 3

o Text me if you are coming over after work. (Conditional. Text me only if you are coming over after work.)

o Text me whether or not you are coming over after work. (Not conditional. I’m asking you to text me either way.)

Note: If you are using “whether or not” to mean “regardless of whether,” then “or not” is required; otherwise, you can do away with “or not.”

Okay. You can relax now.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor


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