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Re: Whatever the whether

Posted by R. Berg on May 09, 2003

In Reply to: Whatever the whether posted by Henry on May 09, 2003

: : : While I'm on the subject of superfluous words, why is it necessary (or is it in fact necessary), to add 'or not' when using the word 'whether'.

: : : Obviously when the condition involves more than 2 choices it's necessary to specify the condition, eg. whether to drive or catch a train (if there are other modes of transport available), but if it's simply a yes or no condition, then sure simply 'whether to catch a train' is sufficient, instead of 'whether or not to catch a train'. This is probably a lousy example, but I'm sure you've got the general idea.

: : It's a good question. The conjunction "whether" has several related meanings:

: : 1) To introduce a single possibility - "I should find out whether he went to work today." This is almost exactly synonymous with "if", but may have a fractionally more doubtful connotation.

: : 2) To introduce several possibilities - "Whether I sink or (whether I) swim, I'm still taking that new position." "Whether... or" is effectively synonymous here with "no matter if... or".

: : 3) To mean either - "Whether by luck or (whether by) judgement, I backed the winning horse."

: : I think therefore that when the speaker/writer wants to highlight the fact that there are just two alternatives - black and white, or positive and negative, if you like - then "whether or not" is correct, as per the following example:

: : I'll be in the office tomorrow, whether I'm ill or not.

: Beautifully spelled out!

Another way to identify the need for "or not" is this: If the clause that begins "whether" is a noun clause, use "or not." If it's an adverbial clause, don't.
"I'll be in the office tomorrow, whether I'm ill or not": adverbial.
"I don't know whether I'll be ill tomorrow": noun.