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From Middle English whether, whather, from Old English hweþer, hwæþer, from Proto-West Germanic *hwaþar, from Proto-Germanic *hwaþeraz, comparative form of *hwaz (who). Cognate with German weder (neither), Swedish var, Icelandic hvor (each of two, which of two)




  1. Indicates doubt between possibilities (usually with correlative or).
    He chose the correct answer, but whether by luck or by skill I don't know.
    • 1915, G[eorge] A. Birmingham [pseudonym; James Owen Hannay], chapter I, in Gossamer, New York, N.Y.: George H. Doran Company, →OCLC:
      As a political system democracy seems to me extraordinarily foolish, []. My servant is, so far as I am concerned, welcome to as many votes as he can get. [] I do not suppose that it matters much in reality whether laws are made by dukes or cornerboys, but I like, as far as possible, to associate with gentlemen in private life.
    • 2012 June 19, Phil McNulty, “England 1–0 Ukraine”, in BBC Sport:
      The incident immediately revived the debate about goal-line technology, with a final decision on whether it is introduced expected to be taken in Zurich on 5 July.
    • 2013 July 20, “Old soldiers?”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8845:
      Whether modern, industrial man is less or more warlike than his hunter-gatherer ancestors is impossible to determine. The machine gun is so much more lethal than the bow and arrow that comparisons are meaningless. One thing that is true, though, is that murder rates have fallen over the centuries, as policing has spread and the routine carrying of weapons has diminished.
  2. Without a correlative, introduces a simple indirect question.
    Do you know whether he's coming?
  3. Introduces a disjunctive adverbial clause qualifying the main clause (with correlative or).
    He's coming, whether you like it or not.
    Whether or not you're successful, you can be sure you did your best.
    • 1931 April, Francis Younghusband, “Preface”, in The Epic of Mount Everest[1], London: Edward Arnold & Co., →OCLC, →OL, page 5:
      The years have gone by and still we know not whether or no Mallory and Irvine reached the summit. But the will to climb Mount Everest is still alive.
  4. (obsolete) Introduces a direct question between alternatives (often with correlative or).

Usage notes[edit]

  • Traditional grammar classifies senses 2 and 3 as whether heading a noun clause, but classifies sense 4 as whether heading an adverbial clause.
  • There is some overlap in usage between senses 2 and 3, in that a yes-or-no interrogative content clause can list the two possibilities explicitly in a number of ways:
Do you know whether he’s coming or staying?
Do you know whether he’s coming or not?
Do you know whether or not he’s coming?
Further, in the first two of these examples, the “or staying” and “or not” may be added as an afterthought (sometimes indicated in writing with a comma before), such that the whether may be uttered in sense 3 and then amended to sense 2.
  • The or not can be placed after whether or after the verb, although in senses 2 and 3, or not is not required.
  • Sense 4 does not have a counterpart that introduces only a single possibility and thus requires or not if no other possibilities are presented. For example,

“He’s coming, whether you like it” is ungrammatical. Grammatical versions are “He’s coming, whether you like it or not” or “He’s coming, whether you like it or dislike it”.

  • The main verb in adverbial clauses with whether is sometimes in the subjunctive mood, especially if the verb is be:
I shall be glad to play any instrument, whether it be a violin or a trumpet.

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.



  1. (obsolete) Which of two.



  1. (obsolete) Which of two. [11th–19th c.]