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I am wondering whether the paragraph below is correct? Mainly I am not sure about the following phrase: "..about whether..", is it correct?

Paragraph:

It is quite common to have a bad situation, however, nowadays there is an intense debate about whether it is better to keep trying until obtaining what you want, or just to accept the things as they are.

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    What do you think might be wrong with it? Currently, although attention is directed to "about whether", asking "Is it correct?" is merely proofreading. Please edit your question to add what caused you to ask it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 13:43
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    The first part is screwed up, but the usage of "about whether" is fine.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 13:47
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    Can you throw in a period before however? Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 13:48
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    If you want a more traditional/formal option, "as to whether" would do.
    – hobbs
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 3:54
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    Not the focus of your question, but "it is better to keep trying until obtaining what you want" sounds wrong to me. "it is better to keep trying until you obtain what you want" or "it is better to keep trying until you have obtained what you want" would be better.
    – Vicky
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 9:06

3 Answers 3

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It is quite common to have a bad situation, however, nowadays there is an intense debate about [whether it is better to keep trying until obtaining what you want, or just to accept the things as they are].

Yes, it's correct.

"Whether" is an interrogative (question) word introducing the bracketed subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question) functioning as complement of "about".

The meaning can be glossed as:

"... nowadays there is an intense debate about the answer to the question 'Is it better to keep trying until obtaining what you want, or just to accept the things as they are?'"

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  • +1 A related aspect of the grammar here is that after prepositions we can only normally use closed interrogatives with whether and not with if. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 0:19
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Indeed. Good point.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 6:36
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You're focussing on the wrong thing. "About whether" is not a constituent; it's not a phrase, or a clause, or a construction. It's not anything by itself and for sure there's no rule about it. It's just two words that happen to occur together in a sentence. Both of them introduce constituents, and those constituents are stacked inside one another like Russian matryoshka.

The operative clause (the rest of the sentence is not involved) is

  • there is an intense debate [about [whether [it is better to keep trying]]]

The brackets show the embedded constructions modifying debate:

  1. the tensed clause: it is better to keep trying (there's more clause in the original)
  2. the embedded question: whether it is better to keep trying, introduced by whether
  3. the prepositional phrase: about whether it is better to keep trying, introduced by about

Whether introduces an embedded Yes/No question

(whether is the Wh-word for Yes/No questions; it's deleted with a real question,
but retained when they're embedded).

This particular Yes/No question is

  • Is it better to keep trying?

but of course an embedded question doesn't do subject-auxiliary inversion -- just the Wh-word is enough.

About is a preposition, and therefore introduces a prepositional phrase -- its object has to be a noun phrase, and embedded questions are noun phrases. Embedded questions are one of the four types of complement ("noun") clauses that function as nouns -- subject, object, prepositional object.

So in this case the preposition about takes as object a constituent clause that starts with the word whether, and that word in turn introduces another constituent clause. It's a complex situation, all right, but focussing on two words that don't belong together isn't going to help.

Look for constructions and clauses, not individual words; English sentences are not stuck together like beads on a string. They're constructed more like large buildings, with parts that fit together and support one another.

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    I think a classification of finite subordinate clauses based on their internal form rather than spurious analogies with the parts of speech is preferable. "Whether it is better to keep trying until obtaining what you want, or just to accept the things as they are" is then a subordinate interrogative clause, not a noun phrase.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 16:41
  • From the basement, it's an interrogative clause. From the penthouse, it's a noun phrase. But really, it's a breath mint. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 16:43
  • But we don't need the term 'noun phrase'. It does no work here, so we don't need it.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 16:47
  • Why throw it out? It might come in handy sometime, it doesn't cost anything, and we can store an indefinite number of them. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 17:21
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    @JohnLawler Well, it maybe does cost a bit, because it's confusing when someone tells you that something is a noun phrase and a clause at the same time. And upstairs noun phrase and downstairs clause is, well, still confusing. Isn't it better to relegate the "upstairs" bit to the constituent's grammatical relations? After all, that's all that bit really means in the first place Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 0:25
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Yes, it is correct. You can also say "on" instead of "about". Here you'll find some examples from published books. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&smoothing=3&content=a+debate+about+whether%2Ca+debate+on+whether%2C&corpus=26&direct_url=t1%3B%2Ca%20debate%20about%20whether%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ca%20debate%20on%20whether%3B%2Cc0

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    The fact that chocolate is more common than vanilla does not prove which flavor is better. Although chocolate is. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 13:47

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