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  #11  
Old October 11, 2009, 02:16 AM
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Thank you everybody.

Cloudgazer, do you think that inverted forms are more formal than the other ones? My book says that the very formal mood would be with 'whether' and the verb 'to be'. Thanks
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  #12  
Old October 11, 2009, 11:11 PM
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Hi, Irmamar,

Re: Inversion

Yeah, the inverted forms do sound more formal to me. In my experience the inverted forms are also used to express emphasis and so are used more when the situation exerts pressure on the speaker.

I'll try to bring out the difference with a couple of examples.

Ex. 1

Let's say we are casually conversing about how I arrived at school one sunny day. As you live close to the school you walked there that day. My choices were either to take the bus or to ride my bike to school. Since it was sunny I had decided to ride my bike. Let's also say the bus got a flat tire on the way to school that morning.

Here's a possible conversation before classes begin:

I: Hey, Cloudgazer! How's it going?
C: Pretty good, Irmamar; nice to see you! Great day for a morning bike ride.
I: I bet. Hey! Did you hear the bus got a flat on the way to school?
C: Really? I'm glad I rode my bike then.
I: Yeah! If you'd taken the bus you'd still be stuck on it along with those crazy kids that live down the street from you.
C: And if I'd taken the bus I wouldn't have been able to grab a cup of that great coffee the donut shop makes!
I: You lucky bum!

This is just a light, informal exchange. Saying had you taken or had I taken would sound stiff to me in this context.


Ex. 2

Now let's say my parents thought I was going to ride the bus that day. They expected this since during the previous evening they had asked me to ride along with my younger brother. Instead, I left early and rode my bike that day, having forgotten about their request.

Here's a possible exchange between me and my mom after I arrive home:

M: Cloud, why didn't you take the bus with your brother? Don't you realize it was his first day at your school?
C: Oh no! I'm sorry, Mom. I forgot.
M: Forgot? Your brother was really nervous about his first day at his new school and you made him go alone!
C: Really, Mom; I'm sorry I forgot.
M: Did you know your brother spent 2 extra hours sitting on the bus by himself with those rowdy kids from down the street? Had you taken the bus he would've had someone to watch out for him.
C: Had I taken the bus I would’ve missed the chair test in my band class!

This is a pressure situation and my mom’s use of inversion adds more of an accusatory tone to the statement she makes. In turn, I use inversion in my answer as a natural mirroring of her choice of expressive pattern as it helps me more strongly defend against her accusatory tone. It’s recasting the accusation through imitation so I can rewrite the story to benefit myself.

This is just my take on some aspects of inversion. Hope it helps!

----------------------------------------------------

Re: whether and formality

Could you provide some examples that your text is discussing? Thanks and have a great week!

-c
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  #13  
Old October 12, 2009, 12:29 AM
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What a good explanation, cloudgazer!


There's only one sentence in my book with' whether' and 'to be':

We have a duty to report this whether he be a parishioner or not.

Is 'to be' used here to express subjunctive? What do you think about its formality? Maybe it's used in certain languages, such as the literary one, isn't it?

Is 'whether' used instead of 'if' to express more formality. I always use 'if', but I don't know if 'whether' is more formal or not.

I have also some doubts about your explanation:

Does 'to get a flat' mean 'pinchar una rueda'?
What is a 'donut shop'?

Thanks again for your information, it helps a lot
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  #14  
Old October 12, 2009, 08:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by irmamar View Post
We have a duty to report this whether he be a parishioner or not.

Is 'to be' used here to express subjunctive? What do you think about its formality? Maybe it's used in certain languages, such as the literary one, isn't it?
That's a subjunctive and a very formal sentence.

Quote:
Is 'whether' used instead of 'if' to express more formality. I always use 'if', but I don't know if 'whether' is more formal or not.
They're not always interchangeable.

Ask him whether he likes peas. (formal or informal)
Ask him if he likes peas. (slightly informal)
Whether he likes peas is irrelevant.
*If he likes peas is irrelevant.
*Whether he comes I'll make pea soup.
If he comes I'll make pea soup.
Whether or not he comes I'll make pea soup.
Whether he comes or not I'll make pea soup.
*If or not he comes I'll make pea soup.
*If he comes or not I'll make pea soup. (sounds strange but I'm not sure it's wrong)

"Whether or not" isn't formal. Using it with a subjunctive is (when grammatical). I'm not sure "whether or not" + subjunctive is ever grammatical except with "to be". If I put the subjunctive into my example:
*Whether or not he come I'll make pea soup.


Quote:
Does 'to get a flat' mean 'pinchar una rueda'?
What is a 'donut shop'?
Yes.
Rosquillería.
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  #15  
Old October 12, 2009, 12:04 PM
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Nice clarification, pjt33!

I'd just add that whether is used to introduce a series of expected alternatives (even if some of the alternatives are implied). When if is used, none of the situations under consideration have to occur.

Leveraging pjt33's example:

Ask him whether he likes peas
has an implicit "or not" in it:
Ask him whether he likes peas (or not).
Ask him whether (or not) he likes peas.

I hope I can make this more clear via examples that give choice between two positives:

Ask him whether he likes peas or corn.
The speaker is typically expecting a choice from the given alternatives, peas or corn (or maybe both).

Ask him if he likes peas or corn.
Here the speaker is allowing for the choice of peas, or of corn, or perhaps neither.
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  #16  
Old October 13, 2009, 12:35 PM
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Thank you

So I understand that 'whether' is used when there are some alternatives, I guess they can be two or more; 'if' is used when there is a condition that must be accomplished to get the action from the main sentence. Am I wrong?

But now I don't understand why in the Cloud's last sentence that 'if' is used, since there can be more than two alternatives, there could be several ones, so maybe 'whether' should be correctly used in that sentence

Sorry for asking so much
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  #17  
Old October 13, 2009, 01:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by irmamar View Post
Thank you

So I understand that 'whether' is used when there are some alternatives, I guess they can be two or more; 'if' is used when there is a condition that must be accomplished to get the action from the main sentence. Am I wrong?

But now I don't understand why in the Cloud's last sentence that 'if' is used, since there can be more than two alternatives, there could be several ones, so maybe 'whether' should be correctly used in that sentence

Sorry for asking so much
Actually, the question is quite difficult. I have been thinking about this, and decided that whether is far more often correct than if. Have a look at this

I can't think of a sentence where whether is wrong in the middle of the sentence, but many sentences where if would be wrong.

I don't know whether to go or not
Ask him whether he likes peas (or not)
I don't care whether it rains (or not)

Whether is only wrong (sometimes) as the first word of a sentence:

If I were you
If you were the only girl in the world
If you can keep your head, when everyone about you is losing theirs...
If it rains today, I'm going to watch TV

I don't know whether that helps. If it doesn't, tell me.
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  #18  
Old October 13, 2009, 01:45 PM
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I didn't know it was so complicated I'll have to study them later, now I must leave. But thanks a lot
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  #19  
Old October 13, 2009, 02:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Perikles View Post
Have a look at this
Prescriptivist nonsense!

Point 1 is generally true for formal registers and untrue for informal conversational registers. But even in formal registers there are exceptions:

We're not interested in the contract.
How about if we double the price?

Point 2 is completely wrong. Conditions are never "whether", even if they begin with an infinitive. (Note that all of Perikles' examples of "if" in his last post are conditions: there's an implied "then").

If to love and lose is better than never to love at all, then ...
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  #20  
Old October 13, 2009, 02:50 PM
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No problem with the asking more questions.

Yes, whether introduces two or more alternatives into a situation. Here's an example with three alternative choices:

Ex 1: Whether I tell him at breakfast, at lunch, or at dinner, he'll be happy.

If there is only one alternative presented, the other alternative is the negative of the first.

Ex 2: Whether I tell him, he'll be happy. = Whether or not I tell him, he'll be happy. = Whether I tell him or not, he'll be happy.

In both examples one of the choice is expected (and in this case, regardless of the choice, he'll be happy.)


If can also introduce two or more alternatives to be considered into a situation. However, it can just as easily introduce only one. The main point is that none of the alternatives is expected to be selected.

Ex 3: If I tell him at breakfast or at lunch, he'll be happy.

Here the alternatives of telling him at breakfast and telling him at lunch are introduced, the result being that when one is chosen he'll be happy. This statement also allows for all the possibilities of telling him at some other time or for not telling him at all. And when the conditions under consideration by the if aren't fulfilled, we don't have any information about what will happen.



Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think you're seeing Ask him whether he likes peas or corn as structured like this:

Ask him (something) if (the following condition is satisfied).

I can see how it could be viewed that way.

The sense of if here is very much like whether. However, the if means that neither choice is necessarily expected to be taken.

Context might help us:

Ask him whether he likes peas or corn would probably be said when the speaker had peas and corn already cooking on the stove and was about to serve them, or when the speaker was looking at the variety of vegetables he or she could offer as part of a meal and expected one of these choices to be selected. In this case the expected answers are along these lines:

He says he'll take/he'd like peas.

or

He says he'll take/he'd like corn.

or maybe even,

He says he'll take/he'd like both.

Ask him if he likes peas or corn is a more neutral query. The speaker is just asking someone to determine the preferences of another without expecting that either choice will necessarily be selected. There could be many alternatives as answers, such as I like brussel sprouts, I don't like either one, I like both.

However, the speaker is only expressing a desire to know how another views the choices of peas and corn, especially in comparison to each other.


In closing, you'll find people who use whether and if interchangeably and situations where they might not be differentiable. If so, it can be hard to determine whether the speaker meant whether or if, whether the situation blurs or removes the difference, or whether the speaker is concerned with such hair-splitting at all.
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