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I've come across several different ways of using the conjunction whether.

First, the terse version:

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside."

That sentence sounds incomplete to me, because it's missing the "or part" (implied by context). When I read it out loud, I think to myself that the sentence should have been written like this:

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside or not."

But I keep seeing it used in both ways. I've also seen it used like this (similar to the above):

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside, or stay inside."

Like this, in the middle of the sentence:

"Jon was deciding whether or not to go outside."

That sentence structure doesn't sound right to me.

And, lastly, like this:

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside, or if he should stay inside."

This is the most comfortable to read to me, but it feels a bit too verbose.

Are all the above sentences grammatically correct, and do they all have the same meaning?

  • @choster: Thanks for pointing out that go out has different idiomatic meanings—I've rephrased the examples to make them clearer and less wordy. – Leif Nov 5 '15 at 20:09
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    BTW, whether isn't really a conjunction. It's a wh-word, like what, where, when, who, how, and why. It's the question word for yes/no questions, used in Embedded Question noun complement clauses: Nobody is sure whether he's coming/when he's coming. These are transforms of the questions Is he coming? and When is he coming?, respectively -- whether is never used as an interrogative marker in a main clause question: *Whether are you coming? – John Lawler Sep 18 '16 at 17:32
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The standard usage is:

whether this or that

where this and that are both phrases/clauses that should be parallel.

The second clause is commonly elliptical if it's the negation of the first. So:

whether he likes it or he does not like it.

becomes

whether he likes it or not.

Of the examples you gave, "Whether to go outside, or if he should stay inside" isn't considered standard because it is not parallel. It should be "whether to go outside or stay inside". Also, "Whether or not to go outside" isn't standard, it should be "whether to go outside or not".

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    I agree, except your final assertion. I very happily and often say phrases that include "I'm wondering whether or not to ...". I'm not sure if I've used Ngrams correctly, but it looks as though I'm not alone goo.gl/ijAq4V – Dan Nov 5 '15 at 23:29
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No, it's not incomplete. The "or not" bit is optional.

All of these are fine:

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside."

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside or not."

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside, or stay inside."

"Jon was deciding whether or not to go outside."

But this one is not:

"Jon was deciding whether to go outside, or if he should stay inside."

You can't mix "whether" and "if" like that.

protected by MetaEd Nov 18 '18 at 20:26

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