Simple, clear help for your writing problems

Whether Or Not?

You can explain away so many writing problems as extensions of conversational English! But hearing the same incorrect expression day-after-day is no excuse for using that expression in your writing. You hear some expressions so often that they sound natural. Then you cough up the expressions without thought.

A case in point: so many writers and speakers heap abuse on the word whether. Stop, and you’ll improve the quality of your writing.

Writing Problems with Whether

You’ve heard the expression whether or not hundreds of times:

I don’t care whether it snows or not.

I’m not sure whether or not you care.

It doesn’t matter whether you let the wine breathe or not.

Don’t let hearing the expression cause it to turn up in your writing. Consider: you can omit or not from each sentence without changing its meaning. Without or not, the sentences become:

I don’t care whether it snows.

I’m not sure whether you care.

It doesn’t matter whether you let the wine breathe.

When you respect the word whether you decrease wordiness, and that’s good for your writing.

Should you ever use Or Not?

Whatever rules you know about writing, apply this rule above all others: try to make your readers comfortable. When you write a sentence using the word whether and it sounds awkward, you may need to add or not for your readers.

Consider: The statement I’m having dessert whether you have any doesn’t feel right. Recast it as I’m having dessert whether or not you have any and it sounds better.

Be judicious. As a rule, use whether alone in all its glory. When whether alone doesn’t cut it, reluctantly add or not.

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2 Responses to “Whether Or Not?”

  1. By Alex on Nov 6, 2010 | Reply

    (This comment will be filled with problems that I do not know about yet. Please, have patience.)

    I would consider optionally dropping “whether” from “whether or not”. “If” works, and carries none of the catchphrase burden of “whether”.

  2. By admin on Nov 6, 2010 | Reply

    Alex: Thanks for your comment. You raise an issue for another post: use fewer syllables! I’d choose “if” over “whether” wherever it didn’t make the sentence stilted or awkward.

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