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My sister doesn't know whether tomorrow can be a holiday for her.

This is a sentence improvement question asked in my exam. Which of the below given two options is the correct answer ?

A) My sister doesn't know whether tomorrow will be a holiday for her.

B) My sister doesn't know whether tomorrow is a holiday for her.

For me both sentences convey same meaning but I can't figure which one to choose as answer.

  • 2
    I'd stick to B. – SovereignSun Jun 30 '17 at 14:50
  • @SovereignSun My book too has B as answer but I think the explanation given is wrong, it says 'will' is not appropriate with 'whether' but I can find many sentences on google with will and whether used together . – user212388 Jun 30 '17 at 14:52
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    @user212388 What's the name of the book. I suggest you add it in your question so that future learners know that the book is misleading. – user178049 Jun 30 '17 at 15:40
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This is a poor question since all of the verbs are grammatical and could be used according to the context: can, will, is. It's one of those questions where you have to shrink your skull down so it fits into the mindset of the examiner. You have to ask yourself, which context is the most "usual".

My sister doesn't know if tomorrow can be a holiday for her.

She may not be able to elect to take the day off. She may have to work even if the organization regards the day as a holiday.

My sister doesn't know if tomorrow will be a holiday for her.

Tomorrow may be a holiday for the organization, but she may have to work nonetheless. Perhaps she is waiting to hear from her boss in this regard.

My sister doesn't know if tomorrow is a holiday for her.

She doesn't know whether the organization she works at treats tomorrow as a holiday.

  • 1
    I'd still stick to "My sister doesn't know if tomorrow is a holiday for her." – SovereignSun Jun 30 '17 at 15:07
  • 1
    Good to know. But why? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 30 '17 at 15:19
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    @SovereignSun and TRomano, the question uses 'whether', not 'if'. – user178049 Jun 30 '17 at 15:47
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    @SovereignSun In this case, yes, there is no big difference. But only if (not 'whether') can be used in a conditional sentence and it usually cannot be used with—as you mentioned—'will' in such a situation. So it can be confusing. See this – user178049 Jun 30 '17 at 15:56
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    I don't know where you found the rule that will cannot be used with if but native speakers routinely use this construction and have been doing so for 200 years at least. And whether has no impact on whether we can choose will, can, or is there. I don't think any contemporary linguist would insist on using whether in the sentences I've supplied as examples. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 30 '17 at 16:43
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It depends on when the holiday is/was declared.

If the holiday status was set prior to the time she spoke, you can use is (although will is also often used in the same context). The holiday-status of the day isn't in question; she just doesn't know what that status is.

  • If a federal holiday falls on a Saturday, the preceding Friday is a holiday. - officeholidays.com (emphasis, mine)

If the holiday status is uncertain at the time she spoke, use will.

  • Often the uncertainty does not matter and you will be able to proceed as if tomorrow will be just like today - Dennis V Lindley (emphasis, mine)

  • If you are working in Washington on this day (even if you normally are assigned elsewhere), it will be a holiday. If you are on travel elsewhere, it will not. - US Dept of Commerce (emphasis, mine; the uncertainty stems from not knowing the location)

Will can also denote certainty, such as when one is declaring a holiday, or declaring that a particular day is a holiday. The Washington example above can be argued to fit this interpretation if the quote is taken as an authoritative statement. In any case, this doesn't apply to your example since she "doesn't know".

  • Tomorrow, Washington's Birthday, will be a holiday in all departments of the University. - The Harvard Crimson (emphasis, mine)

Use can be if there is an element of choice about the day's holiday status.

  • Any Day Can Be a Holiday - Huffpost (emphasis, mine)

So all three variants are possible. Since the original has an element of uncertainty, the will version is arguably closer to the intent than the is version, though the form of uncertainty is somewhat different.

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