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I ran into this sentence in a friend's blog. I can't quite tell what's wrong, but it does feel wrong. Can anyone tell me if/why?

The actual complete sentence:

Secondly, we handle the most important requirement which is to retrieve proteins, whether they are either close, or remote homologs.

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  • Can you include the whole sentence. It's tricky to judge without the full context.
    – Urbycoz
    Jul 27, 2011 at 9:11

4 Answers 4

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The two together are somewhat redundant, both referring to a choice or distinction between the two alternatives. They don't have identical grammar or meaning, but they are close.

Just 'whether' is the more proper wording, just 'either' could work by itself (with a little rewording) and slight change in meaning, and having both is not ungrammatical but a bit sloppy, like how someone might say it off-the-cuff without editing.

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The sentence is ambiguous. Whether they are close, or remote homologs would be acceptable; it means, and the comma clumsily emphasises, that they are homologs, and the question is how close. Whether they are either close or remote homologs is asking , or in context leaving the question open, if they are related: a computer would see this as a yes/no question (assuming that there is no third category of relationships). As written, it is halfway between the two.

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There's nothing wrong with the sentence, though it does sound a bit clumsy.

The punctuation seems a little odd to me, as I think it intends to say "they are [either close or remote] homologs", but the comma makes it read as "they are [either close, or [remote homologs]]". But this is nothing to do with "whether".

"Whether" and "either" both ultimately derive from forms containing the Indo-European suffix "-ter/-tor", which means roughly "one of two", but they have no particular connection in English, and in this sentence they are playing completely different roles.

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I don't think it's very good English at all. At the very least I would discard the word "either", but since it seems like a relatively 'formal' context, I'd probably change it to:

...whether they be close, or remote homologs.

I assume in this context all the proteins are "homologs", and all homologs are either close or remote.

It's a tricky one to decide about commas, though. I'm not keen on just the single one in the original, but I've no strong preference between no commas, or adding another after "remote".

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