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When are “if” and “whether” equivalent?

Which one is the correct meaning of "Let me know if the problem persists."? Or is it ambiguous?

  1. If the problem persists, let me know.

  2. Let me know whether the problem persists or not.

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, jwpat7, aedia λ, Will Hunting, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 10 '12 at 19:49

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"Let me know if the problem persists" sounds to me like it means "if the problem persists, let me know". Option 2 sounds like you are putting words in the speaker's mouth. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 10 '12 at 19:50
@Mr.ShinyandNew安宇: Haha, good to know, thanks! :) –  Mehrdad Jan 10 '12 at 19:54

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

tl;dr – ambiguous.

In informal writing, "if" and "whether" are used interchangeably.¹ This is not recommended because it creates ambiguity, but it is an unfortunate fact. Consequently, the statement can mean either:

Let me know whether the problem persists.


Let me know (only) if the the problem persists.

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A logician might say that the person being addressed need say anything only if the problem did persist. In practice, the context will usually make it clear what is required.

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