Either vs. Whether

This is one of the easiest grammatical points in the English language. But in some ways, it can be a little tricky. Let's start.

"Either" vs. "Whether" in the English Grammar

What Are Their Main Differences?

The main difference between 'either' and 'whether' relies on their grammatical functions. 'Whether' can only be used as a conjunction, but 'either' can have other grammatical functions as well.

Differences

Use of Either and Whether

  • 'Either':

is used to choose between two options or in some cases, it has a similar meaning to 'both.'

Both my brothers have studied medicine, but either has different jobs.

Either the train or the plane will cost a lot.

As you can see here, 'either' is followed by 'or.'

  • 'Whether':

is used as a conjunction to relate two clauses with each other, and in some cases, it means as if it 'does not matter which.'

Do not worry, I will check whether you are awake.

Alan asked whether I was going or not.

Grammatical Functions

  • 'Either':

can be used as a:

  1. determiner
  2. pronoun
  3. adverb
  4. conjunction

Either day is ok for me to go shopping. → determiner

Either would sound delicious whether the salmon or the sushi. → pronoun

My aunt doesn't have blonde hair. I don't either. → adverb

It was either Alex or Peter who proposed to marry Angela. → conjunction

  • 'Whether':

is used to ask a yes/no question indirectly. So, it is used in indirect questions. Remember, usually, we use 'whether' as an alternative for 'if', if there are two options.

She wants to know whether (if) my sister has a license. → conjunction

Here, the original question is: Does your sister have a license?

When to Use 'Whether' Instead of 'Either'

  • 'Either':

is not used in an indirect question. So, using 'whether' to ask an indirect question or in general to talk indirectly is the best choice.

She wants to know whether (if) my sister has a license. (Not "she wants to know either my sister has a license.")

He is not going to like it, whether is you or his best friend. (Not "He is not going to like it, eitherit is with you or his best friend.")

  • 'whether … or not':

is used when we mean it is not important. In this case, we are not allowed to use 'either...or not'. We use 'whether... or not' when one of the options is the opposite of the other. The phrase 'or not' is used at the end of the clause especially when 'whether' is used at the beginning of the sentence.

Whether you want it or not I am going to leave you forever. (NOT "Either you want it or not I am going to leave you forever.")

Whether you like it or not, you are going to clean up your room.

You Cannot Leave out 'Whether' or 'If'

We cannot omit 'whether' or 'if.' Because it changes the correct structure of the sentence and as a result, the statement does not make sense.

She wants to know whether (if) my sister has a license. (Not "She wants to know, my sister has a license.")

'Whether ...or', 'Whether ... or Not'

We use 'whether' or ('if') in questions with or / or not.

  • 'Whether...or':

is used to give two alternatives or options. Using 'or' imply a sense of uncertainty while speaking of different subjects.

She asked whether I stay or leave.

I don't know whether my mom is cooking or having lunch.

  • 'Whether...or not':

is used to give opposite options. Sometimes it implies that it is not important what the action would take place anyway and the speaker uses it as a sign of manipulation.

Whether you want it or not I am going to leave you forever.

Whether you like it or not, the airplane has taken off.

To-infinitive Clause or Finite Clause?

If the subject of the main clause and the subject of the whether-clause is the same, we can use a to-infinitive or finite clause, but if the subjects are not the same, we are just allowed to use a finite clause.

I don't know whether to study or read a book.

Here, the subjects are the same. The speaker means 'I' don't know whether 'I' want to study or read a book.

I don't know whether (if) I study or read a book.

Here, the person chose to use a finite clause.

I don't know whether (if) they study or read a book.

Here, the subject of the main clause (I) is different from the subject of the weather-clause (they); therefore, we are not allowed to use a to-infinitive clause.

What Are Finite Clauses and Non-finite Clauses?

'Finite clauses' are clauses with a verb that have a tense, while non-finite clauses contain a verb that does not have a tense. Remember, finite clauses have their own subjects.

Warning

We are not allowed to use 'if' before to-infinitive clauses.

I don't know whether to study or read a book. (Not "I don't know if to study or read a book.")

I am not sure whether to stay or not. (Not "I am not sure if to stay or not.")

'Either ...or' and 'Whether ...or'

  • 'Either' and 'whether':

When it comes to meaning 'either...or' and 'whether...or' imply different meanings. 'Either...or' is used to indicate a choice between two options that have been mentioned. But, 'whether...or' implies a sense of not being important and it means it does not matter what your preference is and it has doubts in it.

I am not sure whether to cook or order food for dinner.

You can either smoke at the balcony or have fun with us.

Similarities

What They Refer to

  • 'Either' and 'whether':

both refer to two choices. It means you have the power to choose between two options that were given to you.

You can choose whether to run or take a bus.

We could pay with either credit card or debit card.

Using 'Or' after Them

  • 'Whether' and 'either':

both can be followed by the term 'or' to give alternatives. The first choice is put before 'or' and the second choice is used after 'or.'

I am indecisive whether to buy a present or make one for her.

We can either go on a bus or walk on our feet to the house.

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