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When are “if” and “whether” equivalent?

I was told that one can use if in constructions like:

... if A, then ...

But that whether should be used when there is more than one option, like:

... whether A or B, then ...

Is it good practice or common to use whether when giving only one implicit or explicit option?

... whether A (or not), then ...

... whether A, then ...

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If and whether are conjunctions, not prepositions. –  RegDwigнt Apr 25 '12 at 12:48
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marked as duplicate by KitFox, Matt Эллен, Jasper Loy, Mitch, Marthaª Apr 25 '12 at 18:22

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

No, it is not common practice to use whether with only one option.

According to the helpful Grammar Girl web site entry on whether vs. if:

The formal rule is to use if when you have a conditional sentence and whether when you are showing that two alternatives are possible.

This same page also has a section (with examples) about when "or not" is needed with the "whether". It says:

Often, the or not is just extra fluff and should be left off. ... On the other hand, you need the full phrase whether or not when you mean "regardless of whether." It shows that there is equal emphasis on both options.

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+1 for the link to what looks to be a website that I'll visit often. –  Eugene Seidel Apr 25 '12 at 12:55
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‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ deals with this by inviting its readers to consider the sentence You’ll let us know if you’re coming. This can be either a question or a command, depending on intonation. When written, it’s not clear whether or not those addressed are required to reply if and only if they’re coming. Misunderstanding can be removed by reformulating it as Would you let us know whether or not you’re coming, although, as the article says ‘the casualness of the original is lost’.

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