Today’s topic is not about rain versus sun (that’s the “weather”) and it doesn’t involve rope, either (that’s a “knot”).
Instead, we’re looking at the phrase “whether or not.”
How to use the phrase “whether or not” in a sentence
The word “whether” is a conjunction used to show that more than one option is available. If you aren’t sure whether you will go to the beach, that means you might go or you might stay home.
In casual conversation, people often add “or not” onto the end of the word “whether,” so that you will regularly hear the phrase “whether or not.”
The meaning is essentially unchanged, however, regardless of whether someone writes or says just “whether” or the fuller “whether or not.”
In short, you can think of this phrase as meaning a discussion of if something “will or will not” happen. In some cases, the phrase can also mean something like “regardless.”
To use this phrase in a sentence of your own, you can use it either before a verb, phrase or clause or you can insert a verb, phrase or clause in between the “whether” and the “not.”
No matter which method you choose, “whether or not” is a great way to show all the available options in your writing.
More on the usage of “whether or not”
One very common way of using “whether” is as part of the phrase “whether or not.”
Simply put, the phrase typically means that something either will or will not happen.
Consider again that “whether” is similar in meaning to “if.” Based on that, you can think of “whether or not” as a synonym for the phrase “if something will or if it will not.”
The phrase requires some sort of verb phrase to be used correctly, which may be placed at the end of the phrase or after the word “whether.”
As a quick refresher, a verb phrase is simply some combination of words that includes a subject, a verb and potentially an object.
“I ate” is a verb phrase, and so is “you could take out the trash.”
While that sinks in, let’s take a closer look at the two ways to use “whether or not.”
“Whether or not” before a verb phrase
One way to place “whether or not” in a sentence is in front of the verb phrase it modifies.
Remember as well that, as a conjunction, “whether or not” needs to come at the end of the first clause in a sentence.
Alternately, you can begin the sentence with “whether or not” and then add the rest of the sentence after the verb phrase.
In this case, add a comma after the verb phrase to set it off as an introductory phrase.
The patterns for this option look like this:[main clause] whether or not [verb phrase].
Whether or not [verb phrase], [main clause].
“My mother asked whether or not I had done my homework.”
“It was so rainy outside that the weather announcer wondered whether or not fish were swimming across the street.”
The second of these examples is a more complex sentence, but in both the pattern holds.
That is, both sentences start with a clause, add the conjunction “whether or not” and then conclude with a second clause or verb phrase.
“Whether or not I wanted to, I needed to eat.”
Here, “whether or not” comes at the start of the sentence and is separated from the main clause by a comma.
In all these examples, the meaning of the phrase “whether or not” remains the same. The sentences both present two options for what might happen.
“Whether or not” surrounding a verb phrase
The other possible way to use “whether or not” is to place the verb phrase after the word “whether.”
Used this way, the main clause can either come before “whether” or after the word “not.”
In this case, the patterns are as follows:[main clause] whether [verb phrase] or not.
Whether [verb phrase] or not, [main clause].
“I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to eat a cheeseburger or not.”
“Whether I was going to the movies or not, I probably needed to put on clothes.”
The meaning of “whether or not” in these sentences should be clear by now.
Note that, even though the phrase is split in two by the verb phrase, its meaning does not change.
When “whether or not” means “regardless”
Although in most cases “whether or not” will mean “this will happen or it won’t,” sometimes it can also mean “regardless of the two options.”
For the most part, what determines this usage is going to be a word before the phrase that shows some kind of finality.
On the one hand, that means you have to look elsewhere to fully figure out the meaning of “whether or not.”
On the other, it means there are specific words you can look for elsewhere in the sentence, which may make the process easier.
Although it would be difficult to give an exhaustive list of words that can change the phrase’s meaning, in essence they are all synonyms for the word “regardless.”
Some examples might include “regardless” itself, the phrase “it didn’t matter,” or other similar words or phrases.
Note that despite the slightly different meaning, “whether or not” is still formed in one of the two ways described above.
“My mother told me I was doing my homework whether I wanted to or not.”
“No matter whether or not I needed it, the heavy rain gave me a thorough soaking.”
In the first sentence, the mother’s insistence on homework makes it clear that this is not really presenting two options. The speaker is definitely going to do that homework.
Likewise, in the second, the rain is not presenting the person with options. Rather, it is making them wet in any case.
Some more remarks on “whether”
Whether has a long history, with some versions of the word showing up in writing as early as 1100 years ago.
In fact, it’s one of those relatively rare English words that come to us directly from Old English instead of as a borrowing from French, Latin, Greek or some other language.
The word “whether” is a conjunction, which means it is a word used to connect two clauses or phrases within a sentence.
Basically, conjunctions serve to show the relationship between two parts of a sentence.
Specifically, the relationship showed by “whether” is one of choice or alternatives. When you see this word used to connect a clause to another, you can think of it as saying “What follows is one possible option.”
When it’s used by itself, “whether” is similar in practice to the word “if.”
“I wasn’t sure whether it would rain, so I took my umbrella.”
Here, the word “whether” shows that the rain is a possible option, not a certain thing.
“Karan asked whether I could pick up lunch on my way home.”
Again, “whether” means something like “if” in this context.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.