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GMAT Idioms: Whether

UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!


The astute reader will recognize the self-referential error in the above sentence.  The first thing any prospective GMAT test taker needs to learn about this is the If vs. Whether split, so common on GMAT Sentence Correction.   Beyond this, there are characteristic idioms involving the word “whether”:

asks whether

question whether

wonder whether

depends on whether

All of these follow the same pattern.  The word whether introduces a substantive clause which describes the uncertainty in question.

1) The lawyer asked whether the client knew the suspect before the incident.

2)  The Congressional committee questioned whether the general had overstepped his authority in detaining the soldiers.

3) The baseball manager wondered whether his team would be able to rally from 5 runs down.

4a) The professor said he doubted whether most Americans could locate Afghanistan on a blank world map.

This one also could be expressed as a “that” clause:

4b) The professor said he doubted that most Americans could locate Afghanistan on a blank world map.

The last idiom can involve just one “whether clause” after the word “on”, or two “whether” clauses, one as the subject and one as the object of the preposition “on”.

5) The taxes a couple pays depends on whether they are married.

6) Whether a star becomes a black hole at the end of its life depends on whether its remaining mass, after successive red giant stages, is sufficiently large.

7) Whether the state will be able to avoid a full-blown recession depends on whether the agricultural sector is able to rebound this year.




Know the idioms given in bold in this post.  As always with idioms, read, read, read!   Search for the idioms in this post in context.  You understand English best when you understand it in context.


About the Author

Mike McGarry is a Content Developer for Magoosh with over 20 years of teaching experience and a BS in Physics and an MA in Religion, both from Harvard. He enjoys hitting foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Follow him on Google+!

4 Responses to GMAT Idioms: Whether

  1. Ivan April 28, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I always thought that when you use “whether” you also needed to use “or not”, similar to “not only….but also”

    • Mike
      Mike April 28, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      I’m happy to respond. :-) Actually, the GMAT would consider the “or not” redundant, because “whether” already implies a choice.
      (a) I don’t care whether he is happy.
      (b) I don’t care whether or not he is happy .
      Those two have the same meaning, and the second uses extra unnecessary words, so that will always be wrong on the GMAT.
      Does this make sense?
      Mike :-)

      • Ivan April 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

        Certainly. Thanks for the super fast reponse.

        • Mike
          Mike April 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

          You are more than welcome, my friend. Best of luck to you!
          Mike :-)

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