I was reading a mathematics text, and I came across a phrase which I thought was written incorrectly. There was a part of a sentence:

... it begs the question whether or not A=B.

and I feel this is incorrect, but I'm not sure. I think it should be written like this:

... it begs the question of whether or not A=B.

Or maybe there that's also incorrect, and there is a better form altogether? Maybe taking out the "or not" would make it even more correct, but I'm still not sure. My main problem is that I think there should be an "of" before the "whether" but I don't know why.

So, what is the correct form of this expression?

  • "I think there should be an 'of' before the 'whether' but I don't know why." -- There's no reason why there should be an of before 'whether.' Your hunch may be unfounded.
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 15:48
  • Could you explain how 'begs the question' is being used here, jlv? There is a lot of opposition to its use as an alternatiive for 'means that we must ask the question', ie 'raises the question'. (In philosophical, logical, grammatical, and legal contexts, authorities deem such usage to be mistaken or at best unclear. Wikipedia) Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 16:21
  • @EdwinAshworth The phrase 'begs the question' here could be used synonymously with 'assumes an answer to the question' or 'assumes, without proper justification, an answer to the question'. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 19:14
  • In that case, I think that 'begs the question' is being used wrongly. It's used with an antecedent, not a cataphoric complement (ie the thing you're trying to prove, and the argument, have to have been stated). Can you give the paragraph? Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 19:34

2 Answers 2


Both uses of the phrase are correct.

I would probably use the 'begs the question of whether or not A=B' as it flows better, but the 'or not' is superfluous really. Whether A+B only has two options, true or false, so the 'or not' doesn't really add anything to the phrase.

  • 2
    The of is required with indirect discourse, but not for a direct quote, which is simply in apposition with question. I.e, the question of whether NP VP vs the question "v NP VP?". Whether is simply the WH-word that introduces an embedded Yes/No question -- Did he arrive on time? ~ She didn't say whether he arrived on time. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 17:59
  • @John Lawler You're taking 'It begs the question' here as meaning 'It raises the question'? Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 22:50
  • Doesn't matter; whether it's begged, raised, or ignored, the phrase is the question of X. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 23:29

The following is the best answer to be found: https://languagetips.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/weekly-language-usage-tips-no-problem-question-of-whether-or-question-whether/

"Tip 2: Question of whether or question whether

A reader writes:

Just read this sentence in a legal text:

“Very often the question whether the particular conduct is within the scope of the consent . . .”

It caught my eye because I would write “Very often the question of whether the particular conduct is with the scope of the consent . . .” Or sometimes I might say “question as to whether”

And yet when I do, I’m always concerned that it doesn’t sound quite right.

Which is the correct way or are all three correct?

My first thought was that the reader was correct in his choices, and the quote was incorrect. Well, that’s why we use references—when I looked this up, I found that the quote was indeed correct. The reader was not incorrect in his alternatives, but the ‘of’ and ‘as to’ are not necessary to the meaning, and, as a general rule, we should get rid of any words that aren’t necessary. Garner calls ‘of’ and ‘as to’ in this context “minor prolixities.”

[NOTE: Prolixity is excessive wordiness.]

Fowler, never one to mince words, had this to say about ‘as to whether’:

…in such forms as Doubts are expressed as to whether, the ‘as to’ is not incorrect, but merely repulsive.

So let’s try to avoid being ‘merely repulsive,’ and omit the extraneous words.

And just as a reminder—we’ve talked about it before—‘whether’ contains an implicit ‘or not,’ so in most instances, ‘or not’ can be omitted.

Also, remember that when used in the idiom, ‘regardless of,’ the ‘of’ is not superfluous and must be used.

Regardless of whether the hypothesis is proven, the results should be interesting.

So, the question whether it is okay to say ‘question whether’ instead of ‘question of whether’ or ‘question as to whether’ is finally answered.

[NOTE: Gosh, it still sounds wrong to me, but, trust me, this is correct.]"

  • I question whether "the question whether" is in any way superior to "the question of whether."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 0:15

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