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Whether or If – What’s the difference?

Hi dear English learners! Have you ever wondered whether (or if?) there is a difference between “whether” and “if“? They seem to be synonymous but are they really interchangeable? I can tell you that there are some differences in their use. Let’s find out – whether or if – what’s the difference?

When to use IF

Use IF in the conditionals

  • Can you imagine what will happen if your parachute doesn’t open? (not Can you imagine what will happen whether your parachute doesn’t open?)
  • I wouldn’t drink that water if I were you (not …whether I were you)
  • Sarah wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen them holding hands with her own eyes. (not …whether she hadn’t seen…)

Whether or if – what’s the difference?

Use if with the meaning when, whenever, etc…

  • If you heat ice, it melts. (when you heat ice, it melts))
  • If he sees me in the corridor, Mark always asks me about my parents. (whenever he sees me…)
  • You must stand up and salute if you see an officer. (…when/whenever you see an officer))

Use if with phrases such as if so, if possible, if not, if you like, etc.

  • Do you think this dress fits me? And if so, do you think I should buy it?
  • I’d like to arrange a dentist’s appointment on Wednesday, if possible.
  • If not for Fiona, Martin would have never learned to drive.
  • You don’t have to cook. We can eat out if you like.

Use if after adjectives and verbs which express feelings.

  • Would you mind if I changed the TV channel? (not ...whether I changed…)
  • I’m so sorry if I scared you. (not  …whether I scared you)
  • We would be very grateful if you could help us with this legal matter. (not … whether you could help us...)

Whether or if – what’s the difference?

When to use WHETHER

Use whether to express doubt

  • Peter wasn’t sure whether to paint the walls blue or green. (not Peter wasn’t sure if to paint the walls blue or green)
  • Simona doubted whether what John had told her was true. (not … if what John had told her...)
  • What’s the weather like today? I don’t know whether to take a jacket or an umbrella. (not …if to take…)

Use whether after prepositions

  • The secret of a teacher’s success lies in whether he/she can convey knowledge to their students. (not the secret of a teacher’s success lies in if...)
  • Robin was thinking of whether to stay in or go to the party. (not …Robin was thinking of if to stay in…)
  •  Sandra wanted to look at whether the spelling was correct (not … look at if the spelling was correct)

Use whether with infinitives

  • The council is to decide whether to take any actions regarding rubbish in the neighbourhood. (not …if to take…)
  • While I was driving to work today I was wondering whether to leave that problem to the experts or try to solve it myself. (not … if to leave...)
  • You should look at the flat more carefully before you decide whether to buy it. (not … if to buy it)

Whether or if – what’s the difference?

Whether or not

Use it in the phrase “whether or not”, but not if or not.

  • They were talking about whether or not to hire a karaoke machine for the party.
  • Mary was sitting there, thinking whether or not to tell him what happened.
  • Whether or not we are going to buy that car depends on the price.

When to use whether and if interchangeably

Use either whether or if when reporting a yes-no question

  • I want to know whether you’re coming with us or not.
  • I want to know if you are coming with us or not.
  • Martin asked if he should bring a cake to the party.
  • Martin asked whether he should bring a cake to the party.

Use either whether or if when talking about two or more alternatives 

  • Peter was a bit late so he wasn’t sure whether to drive or take a bus.  
  • Peter was a bit late so he wasn’t sure if he should drive or take a bus. 
  • Gary was undecided whether to study Maths, Physics or Chemistry.
  • Gary couldn’t decide if he was to study Maths, Physics or Chemistry.

Whether or if – what’s the difference?

In conclusion

I’m sure that after reading the blog post you must agree that there are more differences between whether and if than you had thought. 

To sum up, we use if and not whether:

  • in the conditionals
  • with the meanings when, whenever, etc.
  • with phrases such as if so, if possible, if not, if you like, etc.
  • after adjectives and verbs which express feelings

Use whether not if:

  • when in doubt
  • after prepositions
  • with infinitives
  • with a phrase whether or not

Use either whether or if:

  • when reporting a yes-no question
  • when talking about two or more alternatives 
Whether or if - what's the difference?
Whether or if – what’s the difference?

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