Tuesday, August 24, 2004

'Whether,' or Not

A cousin of the "everything from [blank] to [blank]" school of giving examples is the non-whether-related use of "whether."

MAKES SENSE: He plays hard, whether it's the U.S. Open or a silly pro-am.

NOT SO MUCH: The resort offers a variety of activities, whether it's lying on the beach or taking trapeze lessons.

The error might be hard to spot because the usage is so common, but what is "whether" doing in that last sentence?

5 comments:

Adroit said...

I have to admit it took me a second to recognize why that second sentence structure sounds so weird, because you read it so often. But if you reverse the structure -- "Whether it's the U.S. Open or a silly pro-am, he plays hard" sounds fine, and "Whether it's lying on the beach or taking trapeze lessons, the resort offers a variety of activities" sounds lame. Thanks!

Frank said...

I think another way to look at it is that there is an "implied subject" [you] who is not explicitly mentioned:

"Whether [your idea of a good time is] . . . lying on the beach or taking trapeze lessons, the resort offers a variety of activities [that are sure to please you]."

Bill said...

"Error" was a little strong on my part, Ed, but even with the sentence written explicitly as you interpreted it, I think it's an extraneous use of the "whether" construction. Examples like that are simply giving examples while trying to dress them up as contingencies.

Frank said...

"The resort offers a variety of activities, whether it's lying on the beach or taking trapeze lessons."

. . . what is "whether" doing in that last sentence?

Wouldn't you say that there is a "range" (as discussed here: www.theslot.com/range.html )? "lying on the beach" (lazy, inactive) to "taking trapeze lessons" (athletic)?

Bill said...

It's not explicitly stated as a range, but if it had been, I'd have made the same argument I did in that other link.