How do you choose between whether and if? And how often does it matter?
- Use “whether,” not “if,” before infinitives.
I can’t decide whether to cook dinner or order takeout.
- Use “whether” in a two-part question with or.
The Directors have not decided whether they will invite the paleontologists or add another archeologist to the expedition.
- After prepositions, use only “whether.”
There was a formal debate about whether paleontologists were qualified to complete the expedition.
- Use “whether” after verbs that are more common in a formal style.
The committee discussed whether the paleontologists should be invited to join the expedition.
- You may use either “whether” or “if” to introduce indirect questions.
The committee was not sure whether [if] the paleontologists will have helpful skills to contribute to the expedition.
- Use “if” to introduce a condition that has to be satisfied before something occurs.
The paleontologists will be included in the expedition if their department can contribute enough to cover their expenses.