Author Topic: if and whether  (Read 10432 times)

Offline Daniel

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Re: if and whether
« Reply #15 on: November 18, 2014, 02:46:50 PM »
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Doesn't whether do the same?

I'll tell you whether I'm ever in town [that I'm in town].
No. Whether is like what/how/when/etc-- it's an indirect question, not a condition. The actual telling is of [whether I'm ever in town]-- telling you the answer.

I'll tell you what I ate.
I'll tell you who I saw.
I'll tell you when the meeting is.
I'll tell you whether I know the answer.

If, on the other hand (in its main use), introduces a sentence-level conditional (adverbial?), not an argument or indirect question.

What gets weird is when if is used like whether but still retains its meaning of "in the event that" as a conditional.
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Offline MalFet

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Re: if and whether
« Reply #16 on: November 19, 2014, 01:12:44 AM »
Indeed.
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To me, the sentence is unambiguously conditional, roughly equivalent to "If I am ever in town, I will tell you [that I am there]."
And where is that [that I am there] part from? :)
It is systematically equivalent to a whether clause of the same form.

Where's it from? I dunno. Where are implicit objects ever from? Speaker knowledge about pragmatics, I suppose?

Offline Daniel

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Re: if and whether
« Reply #17 on: November 19, 2014, 01:18:39 AM »
So you'd say this is a true conditional with a pragmatic implicature that assigns the if-clause as the whether-type complement?
That's possible.

I suppose you can get this reading when it's inverted:
If I need more help, I'll let you know.

So that seems like a plausible explanation.
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Offline MalFet

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Re: if and whether
« Reply #18 on: November 19, 2014, 01:24:06 AM »
My point is that in some cases "if" seems to be both conditional and introducing a complement clause.

Again, I find that a truly bizarre intuition about the meaning of the sentence "I'll tell you if I am ever in town". Without a conditional reading, the sentence is grammatical but makes no sense. It would mean something like, "Next month, I will tell you that I am in town about twice a year". In any normal context, I have to imagine that most people understand the sentence as establishing a cause and effect: "should circumstances be that I am in town, then I will tell you."

Offline Daniel

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Re: if and whether
« Reply #19 on: November 19, 2014, 01:39:41 AM »
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"should circumstances be that I am in town, then I will tell you."
And what would you tell them? that you are in town! It's both the circumstances of telling and the message.
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Offline MalFet

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Re: if and whether
« Reply #20 on: November 19, 2014, 02:05:36 AM »
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"should circumstances be that I am in town, then I will tell you."
And what would you tell them? that you are in town! It's both the circumstances of telling and the message.

Precisely. You will tell them that you are in town. You will presumably not tell them "if [you are] ever in town". That would mean something different. That string of words needs to be understood as part of a conditional clause in order for the sentence to make any sense.