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“Whether” versus “if”

When writing, you want to be sure that you select the correct word to convey your meaning. This is not always an easy task. Two words that are frequently confused with each other (but are not interchangeable) are “whether” and “if.”

“If” refers to an event that may or may not occur, while “whether” refers to one of two actions or events that could take place.

Let’s examine some sentences where it would be appropriate to use each of the two words.

“Whether we used the first solution our results stayed the same.” This is incorrect. To correctly use “whether” in this sentence, it should be rewritten as: “Our results stayed the same whether we used the first solution or the second solution in the experiment.” You must present two options in order to use the term the grammatically correct way.

Let’s now look at the use of “if.”

“Whether we weigh the standards and document the precise amounts, then it should be easier for other scientists to duplicate our research.” This is incorrect. To fix this sentence, “whether” should be removed and “if” should be put in its place so the sentence reads: “If we weigh the standards and document the precise amounts, then it should be easier for other scientists to duplicate our research.” We need to use “if” here for two reasons: the sentence is not giving two direct options and there is no guarantee that weighing the standards will simplify the process of documenting all of the precise information.

In addition, “if” is frequently followed by “then” in what is known as “if–then” statements. “If we turn up the heat on the stove, then the water will boil faster.” “If” indicates that if an action takes place, “then” a certain consequence (good or bad) will likely occur.




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