Wednesday, July 16, 2014

IELTS Grammar: When to Use Whether and If? What's the Difference Between the Two?

“Drop a message whether you are going to my birthday party.”

“Drop a message if you are going to my birthday party.”

Do these sentences mean the same? Can you point out what the difference between these two?

Most people might say that the two sentences are different but has difficulty expressing how they differ. In the English language, some sentences may sound the same but totally mean the opposite. With the two sentences above, the usage of “whether” and “if” makes a whole difference. Let us find out how these two are used in sentences appropriately.

Whether is used on sentences to show choices or alternatives. In using whether, one should pair it with or/or not. When using this in the sentence, the choices could be a yes or a no and can have a positive or negative possibility. Presenting these two choices does not show any condition in the action.


  • The lifeguard was very irresponsible. He did not care whether the swimmer sink or swim in the pool.
  • I would like to know whether you want wine or beer.

IF is a conditional – meaning to say, the result of the action actually depends on a specific condition. There are three types of conditionals in the English language.

a. Type I Conditional – Present Real Conditional

This conditional shows that when this action happens, the other action is the most possible result.


If you turn this switch on, it will set off an alarm.

The kids will be very disappointed if you do not bring any cake.

b. Type II Conditional – Present Unreal Conditional

This conditional is used when we want to emphasized on present imagined situations. This action would happen on a certain unreal condition.


  • If I had a lot of money, I would spend my summer in the Bali.
  • She would be very upset if he did not call.

c. Type III Conditional – Past Unreal Conditional

A certain action happened in the past. You think about it and imagined it in a different situation. The third conditional is used for imagined situations in the past. It often shows regret on the action done.


If I had known about the test, I should have studied for it last night.

I did not know that there was a test. I did not study last night.

She could have been hurt if you did not protect her.

I protected her so she was not hurt.

Now, let us compare sentences with whether and if.

Call me if you are going to cook dinner tonight.

Call me whether you are going to cook dinner tonight.

In the first sentence, it shows that the person should only talk to the speaker if you are cooking, if not, then do not call. On the other hand, the second sentence tells us that the person should tell the person whether she is doing the cooking or not.

Grammar seems to be very difficult once you do not practice making sentences applying the rules. To be familiar with the rules, practice more and do a lot of exercises. Whether you want it or not, English grammar will always be part of your journey in learning English.


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