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

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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.

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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.


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6 Responses to GMAT Idioms: Whether

  1. VJ February 20, 2016 at 1:47 am #

    Please help to identify the plural word and singular word. All these days i thought adding ‘s’ makes a word plural. But it seems it is not the case always.
    Example : Between Draw and Draws, Draw is plural and Draws is singular.
    2) Between Include and Includes, Include is plural and Includes is singular.

    Kindly explain

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 20, 2016 at 1:56 am #

      Hi VJ,

      Happy to help! 🙂

      You are trying to use the noun pluralization rules to apply to verbs, but that will just confuse you. I believe in both your examples (draw and include) you are thinking of the verbs. In the present tense form of English verbs, only the third person singular conjugation has -s at the end. So:

      I walk.
      You walk.
      She walks.

      For nouns, most regular plural nouns have an -s (or a spelling rule of -es, or -ies) at the end to distinguish. Consider:

      Cat vs. cats
      Puppy vs. puppies
      Box vs. boxes

      Some nouns from other historical roots have different plural forms, though. Like:

      Child vs. children
      Goose vs. geese

      You will have to first be comfortable separating nouns and verbs before the rules are easier to apply. From there, the nouns are sometimes irregular and you must learn them by encountering them, but the first person singular verb (our first example!) will always have the -s.

      I hope that helps!

  2. 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 MᶜGarry
      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 MᶜGarry
          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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