GMAT Sentence Correction – Whether Vs If

Since we have covered most of the major errors pertaining to GMAT Sentence, we will move our focus to the minor rules. You might or might nor encounter questions based on these minor rules and even if you do not more than one.

But questions pertaining to these rules are present in the OG, The Verbal Review and the GMAT Prep Software so it makes sense to cover these. One question from each of the 3-4 minor rules is enough to change your Verbal Scaled Score significantly.

Let us look at a GMAT Sentence Correction question that asks you to choose between whether and if.

Beyond the immediate cash flow crisis that the museum faces, its survival depends on if it can broaden its membership and leave its cramped quarters for a site where it can store and exhibit its more than 12,000 artifacts.

(A) if it can broaden its membership and leave

(B) whether it can broaden its membership and leave

(C) whether or not it has the capability to broaden its membership and can leave

(D) its ability for broadening its membership and leaving

(E) the ability for it to broaden its membership and leave

Firstly, it is not mandatory that this sentence should be constructed using “whether”.

It can be constructed along the lines of options D and E but D is incorrect since ability for is incorrect, it should be ability to. E is incorrect since ability for it to broaden its membership is awkward.

So now we are left with A, B & C. Option A looks attractive since it is the least wordy option.

This is where the rule pertaining to if and whether comes into play.

IF is always used to put forward a conditional — if X, then Y.

WHETHER is used to pose a question or a conjecture

The difference is best illustrated through the following sentence

• I wanted to see if he can do it – Incorrect
• I wanted to see whether he can do it – Correct

So in this case the question posed is whether the museum can broaden its membership and leave

To express this sentence using if, it should be framed as follows: If the museum can broaden its membership and leave then it can survive.

So the choice it  between options B and C.

The choice is not between whether and whether or not, which is a trap. The error in option C lies with the usage of the capability to broaden. It is wordy and awkward when followed by can leave.

Let us look at another GMAT Sentence Correction question involving the same rule.

A proposal has been made to trim the horns from rhinoceroses to discourage poachers; the question is whether tourists will continue to visit game parks and see rhinoceroses after their horns are trimmed.

(A)  whether tourists will continue to visit game parks and see rhinoceroses after their horns are

(B)  whether tourists will continue to visit game parks to see one once their horns are

(C)  whether tourists will continue to visit game parks to see rhinoceroses once the animals’ horns have been

(D)  if tourists will continue to visit game parks and see rhinoceroses once the animals’ horns are

(E)  if tourists will continue to visit game parks to see one after the animals’ horns have been

Again the same rule and this it is time very explicitly presented in the form of  a 3-2 split.

As discussed above the sentence poses a question about an unpredictable outcome, making whether the option to choose.

And even at the risk of repeating myself in successive posts, I will repeat the big rule — once the main error is resolved the tie breaker always revolves around subjects & pronouns.

In options A and B, the usage of their horns introduces an ambiguity, whose horns does their refer to — the rhinoceros’ or the tourists’? I am sure the person who made this question had a quiet laugh at this!

Like the rule stated in the previous post, it is easy to remember and execute. You will not find too many questions based on this rule to practice but that’s not a misfortune since this is easy as easy as it can get on the GMAT Sentence Correction!