“If” Versus “Whether” on GMAT

Through this short video, understand the difference between the usage of "if" and "whether" on the GMAT sentence correction.

"If" Versus "Whether" on GMAT

"If vs Whether" is a common trap in GMAT sentence correction; the two words convey similar meanings, often making it difficult to determine which one is the correct usage in any situation. In this short article, we will cover the difference between "if" and "whether" and how to determine their proper usage on the GMAT.

The primary difference between "if" and "whether" is that the former leads to a then-clause and the latter does not lead to a then-clause. This concept is best explained through the help of the following examples:

Example 1 - If you promise to come along, (then) I will also come for the party.
You might be wondering why "then" is written within brackets; to clarify, this indicates that the word "then" is not actually written within the sentence. In this sentence, "then" is silent, and its use is only implied in the meaning; however, the clause "I will also come for the party" is still a then-clause and the sentence is perfectly correct.

Now let us look at a different example:

Example 2 - I am not sure if it will rain today.
In this sentence, "if" is not followed by a then-clause; therefore, this sentence is incorrect. In such a case, "whether" would be the correct word to use. The correct form of this sentence is:

I am not sure whether it will rain today.

One thing to keep in mind, while solving the "if vs whether" question on GMAT, is that in sentences where "if" is the correct usage, "whether" sounds very awkward. While trying to eliminate answer choices based on whether the "sound right" is typically not an effective strategy on the GMAT, in this particular situation it can be useful, as the utilizing "whether" in place of "if" is quite blatantly awkward. To fully understand this point, please consider the following example:

Example 3 - Whether you promise to come along, I will also come for the party.
As you can clearly see, the above sentence is extremely and obviously awkward; such a sentence will never be written, certainly not it on the GMAT. What is tested on the GMAT is cases such as Example 2, wherein, "if" is written but "whether" is the correct usage. Therefore, we can conclude that if you are caught between "if" and "whether" on the GMAT, most of the time, whether will win.

This article has deliberately been kept brief; for a more elaborate explanation, please refer to Experts' Global's Stage One Sentence Correction videos.

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