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Old English hwæþer, from Proto-Germanic *hwaþeraz, comparative form of *hwaz (who). Cognate with English either, German weder (neither), Swedish hvar, Icelandic hvorr (each).




  1. (obsolete) Which of two. [11th-19th c.]
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Matthew XXVII:
      The debite answered and sayde unto them: whether of the twayne will ye that I lett loosse unto you?
    • Bible, Matthew xxi. 31
      Whether of them twain did the will of his father?
    • 1633, George Herbert, The Temple, The Pearl:
      In vies of favours whether party gains...



  1. (obsolete) Introducing a direct interrogative question (often with correlative or) which indicates doubt between alternatives.
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Mark II:
      whether ys it easyer to saye to the sicke of the palsey, thy synnes ar forgeven the: or to saye, aryse, take uppe thy beed and walke?
    • 1616, William Shakespeare, King John, I.i:
      Whether hadst thou rather be a Faulconbridge, [...] Or the reputed sonne of Cordelion?
  2. Used to introduce an indirect interrogative question that consists of multiple alternative possibilities (usually with correlative or).
    He chose the correct answer, but I don't know whether it was by luck or by skill.
    • 1915, George A. Birmingham, “chapter I”, in Gossamer (Project Gutenberg; EBook #24394), London: Methuen & Co., published 8 January 2013 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 558189256:
      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.
  3. Without a correlative, used to introduce a simple indirect question.
    Do you know whether he's coming?
  4. Used to introduce a disjunctive adverbial clause which qualifies the main clause of the sentence (with correlative or).
    He's coming, whether you like it or not.

Usage notes[edit]

  • In traditional grammar, the clauses headed by whether in senses 2 and 3 are classified as noun clauses, and those headed by whether in sense 4 are classified as adverbial clauses.
  • 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.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.

Related terms[edit]


Most common English words before 1923 in Project Gutenberg: during · several · either · #338: whether · city · held · help