Posted by: episystechpubs | July 29, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Whether or If

Good morning. I have been thinking about the easiest way to explain the difference between if and whether. By default, it seems people usually use if. But sometimes whether is the better choice and Grammar Girl did a really good job exaplaining why in a recent post. She provided this useful graphic:

And this is what makes the rule particularly important for us: she explains that “…in formal writing, such as in technical writing at work, it’s a good idea to make a distinction between them because the meaning can sometimes be different depending on which word you use.”

The following explanations and examples are from Grammar Girl’s post:

Here’s an example where the two words could be interchangeable:

· Squiggly didn’t know whether Aardvark would arrive Friday.

· Squiggly didn’t know if Aardvark would arrive Friday.

In either sentence, the meaning is that Aardvark may or may not arrive Friday.

Now here are some examples where the words are not interchangeable:

· Squiggly didn’t know whether Aardvark would arrive Friday or Saturday.

Because I used "whether," you know that there are two possibilities: Aardvark will arrive Friday, or Aardvark will arrive Saturday.

Now see how the sentence has a different meaning when I use "if" instead of "whether":

· Squiggly didn’t know if Aardvark would arrive Friday or Saturday.

Now in addition to arriving on Friday or Saturday, it’s possible that Aardvark may not arrive at all.

These last two sentences show why it is better to use "whether" when you have two possibilities, and that is why I recommend using "whether" instead of "if" when you have two possibilities, even when the meaning wouldn’t change if you use "if." It’s safer and more consistent.

Here’s a final pair of examples:

· Call Squiggly if you are going to arrive Friday.

· Call Squiggly whether or not you are going to arrive Friday.

The first sentence is conditional. "Call Squiggly if you are going to arrive Friday," means Aardvark only needs to call if he is coming.

The second sentence is not conditional. "Call Squiggly whether or not you are going to arrive Friday," means Aardvark needs to call either way.

To sum up, use "whether" when you have two discrete choices or mean "regardless of whether," and use "if" for conditional sentences.

Whether or not you found this useful, I hope you have a lovely day.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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