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Should I use "whether or not" or just "whether" in following sentence? Which one is correct?

I kept contemplating whether or not to sell my stock position.

OR

I kept contemplating whether to sell my stock position.

  • 2
    Both versions are correct, and there is no difference in meaning between them. Contemplate, however, is an odd word here: it suggests dispassionately gazing at the choice rather than actively wrestling with it. – StoneyB Mar 6 '17 at 13:19
  • @StoneyB When it comes to stocks, dispassionate gazing, or even glazed dispassion might not be so uncommon. Until the price suddenly moves, of course. :) – Lawrence Mar 6 '17 at 14:22
  • @StoneyB I think "contemplate" is fine, but "keep contemplating" is an awkward pairing. You can contemplate the potential value of an investment, but to keep doing so implies, as you say, a much stronger feeling about it. – Andrew Mar 6 '17 at 14:26
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We often use whether-clauses to represent closed questions. This means they often represent questions which have the answer yes or no.

  1. I am wondering [whether I should sell my stock position].

So there are two possible answers to the question Should I sell my stock position?: YES and NO.

In English, when a whether-clauses represents a closed question, we do not need to represent the no option in the clause. (In many other languages you do need to represent the no option).

However, although we don't represent the no option, we can if we want to. This does not change the meaning of the sentence at all. There are two ways we can do this:

  1. I am wondering [whether or not I should sell my stock position]
  2. I am wondering [whether I should sell my stock position or not]

In the first example, we see the words or not appearing after the word whether. In the second example, these words appear at the end of the clause instead. Both of these examples are grammatical.

In English, sentences (1), (2) and (3) are all grammatical and all mean the same thing. For this reason both of the Original Poster's examples are grammatical and also have the same meaning.


Grammar note:

We can also use whether-clauses to make special conditionals called exhaustive conditionals. When we use whether-clauses in conditionals, they MUST include all the possible outcomes of the situation—otherwise they are ungrammatical. Usually this means that they must contain the words or not:

  • Whether you want to or not, you must go to the meeting.
  • Whether or not you want to, you must go to the meeting.
  • *Whether you want to, you must go to the meeting. (ungrammatical)
  • +1 Wanna add if X, if X or not, but usually not if or not X? – StoneyB Mar 6 '17 at 15:11
  • @StoneyB The mind is willing, but the time-table is unyielding ... – Araucaria Mar 6 '17 at 15:16
  • What an elegant answer this is! I was searching for this problem and this post came out, and this solves the problem perfectly in such a way a great book would explain. – Smart Humanism Apr 9 '18 at 8:09

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