Consider the following line, which I've heard this particular construction frequently:

"I’m curious if other people feel like I do."

The construct specifically is that of using "I'm curious if" to preface something that the speaker is curious about.

I was recently told by someone that this is improper English, as it implies a conditional - that is, "If other people feel like I do, then I am curious". The proper way suggested was "I'm curious as to whether other people feel like I do."

I can see where it's coming from, at least that the former can be read in that fashion and that the latter is unambiguous. However, is it actually improper or logically incorrect?

Prior to asking this question, I did a quick check on this site - there were at the time 48 instances where users used the phrase "I am curious if (some situation is true)", while there were 46 instances where users used the phrase "I am curious as to (whether something is true, where the rule works in this fashion, etc.)". So they both look equally used, and the users using them ranged from new users to reaching the 20k reputation level, so it struck me as not something about being improper English. Rather, it struck that if anything it might be considered maybe a colloquialism or otherwise casual lingo.

  • 1
    Btw, another common "curious" usage is "curious about". Related but not really a dupe: english.stackexchange.com/questions/103432/…
    – MrHen
    Mar 19 '14 at 20:39
  • Good link, MrHen. My first inclination in dealing with the poster's original question was to add "about" to the example. To my ear, "I’m curious about whether other people feel like I do" sounds more natural than "I’m curious about if other people feel like I do," although more natural still would be "I’m curious about whether other people feel the way I do."
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 21 '14 at 18:50

"Curious if" is commonly seen and heard, but strictly it's not right. On the other hand I'd still prefer it to "curious as to whether". That infernal "as to" keeps popping up these days: "he asked as to whether", "they debated as to how", "she decided as to when". Just remove the "as to" from those, and others like it, and you'll see that it serves no purpose. It's just a bit of verbal Polyfilla.

So, to answer your question, "I'm curious whether" is the best solution.

Edit: On second thoughts, I don't think "curious if" is wrong. In theory it does create an ambiguity, but in practice it never would. But "curious whether" is still preferable.

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    I'm curious if is exactly equivalent to I'm curious whether. How can you say the former is wrong but the latter better? Mar 20 '14 at 9:53
  • @Susan See my answer for an explanation of why.
    – Engineer
    Mar 20 '14 at 10:20
  • @Susan - Well, just because of the slight risk of ambiguity. But, thinking about it some more, I'm stuck for a case. Nick Wiggil, in his answer gives one: I'm curious if others are, where the are inadvertently hooks up with curious. I'm curious if others are curious. But that sentence would never exist in isolation; there would always be some preceding sentence that the are refers back to. Such as, I'm suspicious of the minister's motives. I'm curious if others are. In practice, you'd never have the ambiguity that is theoretically possible. So I'd say "curious if" is fine. Mar 20 '14 at 12:50
  • A fair answer, though I'd say "never" is a very long time.
    – Engineer
    Mar 20 '14 at 18:59
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    @MrHen - I could, but that would make nonsense of the comments from other posters. I thought it better to keep my second thoughts separate from the main body by posting them underneath. Then readers can make sense of the whole debate. Surely that's a better solution? Mar 21 '14 at 14:30

I'm curious if other people feel like I do.

This usage of "if" is equivalent to "whether" and is explicitly included in the dictionary:

if — whether

There are a few other examples of this usage:

I'm not sure if other people feel like I do.

Do you know if other people feel like I do?

The specific usage of "curious if" is perfectly acceptable in much the say way that "curious whether" is acceptable. It does not imply a conditional.

I'm curious whether other people feel like I do.

"Curious," by the way, has a few other variants:

I'm curious if other people feel like I do.

I'm curious as to whether other people feel like I do.

I'm curious about whether people feel like I do.

To directly answer your question:

However, is it actually improper or logically incorrect?

No, it is not improper or logically incorrect. Which of these is more appropriate is a matter of personal and regional preferences.

  • Can you explain to us, then, why "whether" exists, if "if" has always been sufficient?
    – Engineer
    Mar 21 '14 at 9:27
  • 2
    English has plenty of words that mean similar things. I don't understand your question.
    – MrHen
    Mar 21 '14 at 13:08
  • You understand the question well enough, you're just trying to avoid it. Your remark implies that you suggest there is no distinct use for "whether" at all, is that correct? That we could lose it from the language without this making any difference?
    – Engineer
    Mar 21 '14 at 13:52
  • 2
    No, that is not what I am suggesting. But it sure is nice of you to tell me what I understand. If you want to continue this conversation, ping me in English Language & Usage Chat and once I actually understand what you are asking I'll post my answer here. (By the way, you've already asked three separate questions in these two comments and one of those questions appears to have a strange assumption associated with it.)
    – MrHen
    Mar 21 '14 at 14:11
  • 2
    I cannot answer a question I do not understand. English Language & Usage Chat is a faster way to resolve the issue and it doesn't clutter up the comments.
    – MrHen
    Mar 21 '14 at 15:58

"Curious if" is perfectly natural!

No one would interpret it as being a conditional statements because it wouldn't make sense - why would your curiosity be conditional on how other people feel? And if for some strange reason you really did mean the conditional, then you would stress the word if. While that may be slightly ambiguous for written English there is absolutely no ambiguity in spoken English.


The Short Answer

Where an unquestionably-correct term already exists in the language, such as "whether", use it. Avoiding ambiguity is precisely why our predecessors introduced the term.

The Longer Answer

This is a relatively recent change to the language; 20-25 years ago, speaking in such a way as you mention was heretofore considered grammatically incorrect, as it denotes two potential meanings.

Consider the accepted "if"-form of the recent past, a form that remains uncontested:

"I wondered if you might like to go to the dance with me."

With "wondered" being past tense, any ambiguity is eliminated, as "if" cannot denote a true conditional in something that has already transpired; its meaning thus defaults to the ever-correct term, "whether". This correlates with normal usages of "if" in the past tenses.

However, in more modern usage, there has been a lot of ambiguous use; taking your example into account, slightly reworded:

"I'm curious if others feel like I do."

Consider this in comparison to the sentence,

"I'm curious if others are."

In the latter, "I'm curious if others are (curious)", the "if" clearly applies to the first clause, so equally, the "if" in the former must apply to the first clause, resulting in approximately

I am curious (per se, not about anything in particular) only under the circumstance that others feel like I do.

...Which is clearly not what was meant.

So yes, this sentence certainly is ambiguous, and this is why we have "whether" -- in using it, one's meaning cannot be mistaken.

  • 2
    Do you have any evidence that this is a recent change in our language? Google Ngrams seems to think otherwise. Mar 20 '14 at 11:29
  • @PeterShor Well, just look at your results: For instance, the first category 1800-1828 shows that mostly permutations of "...curious. If..." which clearly doesn't apply here. Any way to get Ngrams to do what it's supposed to be doing? Searching purely on "whether" shows a gradual drop in usage.
    – Engineer
    Mar 20 '14 at 12:32
  • 1
    Try this Ngram. Certainly "I am curious whether" and "I am curious as to" have been used for a long time. Mar 20 '14 at 12:41
  • Thank you, @PeterShor. Yes, that Ngram shows that the use of 'if ' over 'whether' has, over the last 25 years or so, been growing greater and greater, while 'whether' has been falling out of favour; which is unfortunate, because 'whether' is simply more precise. One can also see how very prevalent 'whether' was in the 19th c. In my opinion, this was a time when the language was spoken and written with greater precision, on the whole.
    – Engineer
    Mar 20 '14 at 12:59

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