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Judy wanted to know if the flight ticket to Shanghai was valid.

Can I replace "if" with "whether" in the sentence above?

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  • Yes, you can. In an embedded question like this one, either "if" or "whether" are possible. There is a small difference in style level: other things being equal, formal style will favour "whether", informal style "if".
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 16:19

3 Answers 3

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"Judy wanted to know if the flight ticket to Shanghai was valid?" is not a question, and should not have a question mark at the end.

In informal writing, 'if' and 'whether' are often equally correct (such as in your sentence), but there are some situations where you should use one or the other:

You can use either 'if' or 'whether' when the sentence is conditional (the answer will be a simple 'yes' or 'no'); the formal rule is to use 'if'.

I don't know if/whether my ticket is valid (it either is or isn't valid).

It is better, and is the formal rule, to use 'whether' when multiple possibilities are being asked about: I don't know whether my mother will arrive on Saturday or Sunday.

If versus whether

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I would prefer whether, which implies more strongly that Judy asked a specific question. Compare:

I want to know whether my father is in hospital.

meaning: I think he may be in hospital; is this true or not?

I want to know if my father is in hospital.

meaning: I have no reason to think he may be in hospital, but if he is, I hope someone will tell me!

Judy wanted to know if the ticket was valid.

could mean: Judy assumed that the ticket was invalid, but wanted someone to tell her if she was mistaken.

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Judy wanted to know if the flight ticket to Shanghai was valid.

This is an indirect question. We can use weather/if to report indirect questions but if is more commonly used than whether. Whether is used in formal context.

Prime Minister asked the opposition party leader whether he had any apprehension about the policy.

Your example sentence is a bit informal one so its better you use if

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  • "Judy wanted to know if the flight ticket to Shanghai was valid?" is not an indirect question. It is a statement about someone's desire to know something, which may possibly have been spoken or written. It should not have a question mark at the end. Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 14:42
  • @Michaelharway dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/if-or-whether Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 14:51
  • It is a reported indirect question. No question mark. Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 14:53
  • @BillJ would you say the following sentence is an embedded question? Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 16:27
  • John read a letter that he’d written and the board discussed whether it should be mailed Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 16:27

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