Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody! My name is Alisha.
In this lesson, I'm going to talk about the differences between "whether" and "if," and I'm gonna introduce some example sentences that show kind of the times when we can use either of these words.
Let's get started!
Okay. I want to first talk about the word "if."
The basic rule for using "if" is that we use "if" when we're making a conditional.
So, in many cases, we begin conditional statements with "if," like the sentence starts with the word "if," like "if you have time" or "if you're free" or "if we can" and so on. But sometimes, this kind of has a different pattern and it can be a little confusing to understand when to use "if" and when to use "whether" in these cases. But simply put, we use "if" when making conditional sentences like these.
First example is:
"Let me know if you need anything!"
So, "if you need anything," this is the condition. If you need something, if you need anything, let me know, contact me, in other words.
Another example:
"I exercise twice a week...if I have time."
So, this is my condition, "If I have time, I exercise twice a week." So, again, with conditionals, we can change the order of our "if clause" and our "main clause," like "If I have time, I exercise twice a week."
One more example here:
"Is it OK if I sit here?"
This is a question, a very common question.
"Is it okay if I (do something)?"
Is it okay if I use your phone?
Is it okay if I sit here?
This is a common way to ask permission for (something).
"What should we do if there's a problem?"
What should we do if there's a problem?
So here's my condition, "if there's a problem." So you can use this sentence at work, you can use this sentence when making plans. There are many situations where you might need to ask this question about something you should do in case of a problem.
So this is just an introduction to kind of conditional sentences and some common situations where we use "if."
But I want to compare this to "whether."
So we use "whether," actually, sometimes in the same sentences as "if," and you'll hear a lot of native speakers using "if" and "whether" to communicate the same idea. But, we use "whether" when there are two options in the situation. So, if you think about the situation and you can say that there are maybe two choices to make, you can use "whether" instead of "if."
So, examples, first:
"Do you know whether they're arriving in the afternoon or the evening?"
So, in this case, there are two choices in this situation, two options. They are "arriving in the afternoon" or "arriving in the evening." So we use "whether" to show that those are like the two options here, the two choices.
One more example:
"She asked whether (or not) she could invite a friend to dinner."
So here, I've included this "or not," "whether (or not) she could invite a friend to dinner." So there's one option here that's clear. So, "she can invite a friend to dinner" and this "or not" is like the implied alternative option. So we don't say clearly like, "Can I invite my friend to dinner or can I not invite my friend to dinner?" We use "whether or not" to communicate those two options very clearly and quickly.
So, these are a couple of examples where you might hear native speakers using "if." We can use "whether" or "if," or it's very common to use "whether" or "if" in these kinds of statements. But perhaps, it sounds a little more natural or it sounds a little clearer to use "whether" because there are these two options in these cases.
Actually, to return to this one, "Let me know if you need anything!" this is another example where you might hear a native speaker use "whether" as well, like "Let me know whether or not you need anything." You might hear that, but I feel like this one is a little bit more commonly used with "if."
So, yes, there are some cases where we can use both "whether" or "if" to communicate the idea or to communicate options, but a decent rule that you can follow is if there are two things to choose from in the situation, use "whether."
Another really good hint, I included it here, is up here - if you can use "or not" after this word...So you're thinking should I use "whether"? Should I use "if"? If you can use "or not" after it, you can use "whether," that's okay.
So, to apply this hint over here, like:
"Let me know whether or not you need anything."
That sounds good so we can use "whether" here.
Or this:
"I exercise twice a week whether or not I have time."
So this actually changes the meaning of the sentence. So it's like "whether or not I have time" would mean like this person has some cases where there's no time and yet they exercise twice a week, it changes the meaning. Here, it's a condition only, so it doesn't make sense. It doesn't keep the meaning of the sentence.
So, we can try again:
"Is it OK whether or not I sit here?"
Again, it changes the meaning. It's not really like a condition in this case, like "Is it OK whether or not…?" It doesn't make any sense, so we should use "if" here.
And one more:
"What should we do if or not…" doesn't make sense.
"What should we do whether or not there's a problem?"
That doesn't make sense either, so we should use "if," we should use "if."
So, "if or not" is not something that we use, so keep that in mind. So no "if or not."
If "whether or not" does not fit or it changes the meaning, it doesn't make sense, use "if" instead. So this is a nice hint that you can think about.
Okay. Let's go on to the next point here about "whether."
So, another good hint for using "whether" is, first, we use it after a preposition. So like "and…" let's see, "by, and, for, about, in," those words, prepositions, and we use it before infinitives. So infinitive verbs, that's "to + (the verb)," to + (the veb), that's the infinitive form.
Let's look at some examples of this.
"They talked about whether to hire new staff or not."
So here, my preposition is "about." So "whether" follows the preposition, "whether" comes after the preposition. And here, I have a verb in the infinitive form "to hire," to hire. So here, "They talk about if to hire…" would be incorrect. We cannot use "if" in this sentence.
"They talked about whether to hire new staff or not."
Here, I've included "or not" which means they talk about the topic of hiring new staff or not hiring new staff. There are these two alternatives, again. So, preposition, infinitive verb. This is a really good rule to follow when you're choosing between "whether" and "if."
One more example of this:
"I can't decide whether to buy a watch or a clock."
I can't decide whether to buy a watch or a clock.
So here, we have "decide," that is just a verb here, but after this, after "whether" is an infinitive verb, "to buy." "I can't decide if to buy…" is not correct. We cannot use "if" here. We can use "whether" because the verb is in the infinitive form, to + (my verb).
So, "I can't decide whether to buy a watch or a clock."
In this situation, again, there are two options, a watch or a clock. So, a couple of points there, to remember from this, "whether" should be used when you have two choices, "two alternatives" in your situation and use it after a preposition, before an infinitive verb.
Okay. So, I want to finish this lesson by showing a situation where both are okay to use, actually. They make grammatically correct sentences, but the meaning changes. So, there are some situations where you should be careful because there could be a miscommunication.
Let's look at this pair.
"Please call me if you're going to the meeting."
"Please call me whether or not you're going to the meeting."
So, what is the difference here?
The first sentence means, please call me "only if" you're going to the meeting. So that means, if you are not going to the meeting, don't call me, I don't need you to call me.
"Please call me if you're going to the meeting."
The second sentence here though, shows "whether or not" in the sentence, please call me whether or not you're going to the meeting. This means, if you're going to the meeting, call me. If you are not going to the meeting, call me. It means it doesn't matter, regardless of the situation, please call me.
So, this is an example of a situation where both are actually okay to use, but there's a small difference in expectation. There's a small difference in meaning. So please keep this in mind, like if you're making plans or you're in this kind of situation, a communication situation, it can be important to be very clear and accurate when you choose between "if" and "whether." So, one example here.
But as I said, there are some situations like these, up here, with "whether" where you might hear people using them interchangeably, using them in the same way. But as long as you can remember these guidelines we talked about for "whether" and remember to use "if" for conditionals, you can probably have very few problems, I think.
So, I hope that this lesson was helpful in explaining some of the differences between "if" and "whether," but if you have any questions or comments or if you want to practice making a sentence with these words, please feel free to do so in the comment section of this video.
Thanks very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon. Bye-bye!

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