I am a high school student from a country where English is not the native language. In my recent English exam, the following two sentences were involved:

The official correct sentence: "Hence, the performer’s level of skill and the complexity of the skill itself will determine whether an audience helps or hinders performance."

My submitted sentence: "Hence, the performer’s level of skill and whether the complexity of the skill itself will determine an audience helps or hinders performance."

I would like to submit an opinion letter arguing that my sentence should also be considered correct. Despite slight differences, my sentence contains no significant grammatical errors and conveys the same meaning as the official answer. I would greatly appreciate it if you could provide a professional opinion supporting the validity of my answer as correct.

Thank you very much.

  • 10
    Your sentence moves "whether" out of place. "Hence, whether (the complexity of the skill itself will determine if an audience helps or hinders performance) verb." Check before you proceed. The original is whether an audience helps or hinders, which offers A or B. Commented Jul 3 at 12:09
  • 12
    What's the reason you think your version is correct? It's incorrect, unfortunately, but we'd need more information to understand why you made this mistake.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 3 at 12:29

6 Answers 6


Sorry, your sentence isn't grammatically valid. It's not even a sentence! The original was quite complex, so let's demonstrate with something simpler.

  • This light and this switch show whether the stove is on. Comparing this sentence to the original, the subject "light and switch" corresponds to "level and complexity," the verb "show" corresponds to "will determine," and "whether the stove is on" corresponds to "whether an audience [etc.]." Subject, verb, verb complement.
  • This light and whether this switch shows the stove is on. Since we have a compound subject, we expect whatever comes after "and" to be a part of the subject and act like a noun. In the previous sentence it was simple, "this switch." But much longer phrases can act like nouns too, even complicated phrases starting with "whether." (For instance, "Whether or not the stove is on is not a question that matters right now.") By moving the word "whether" to come after "and," we think of everything that follows as part of the subject of the sentence... and we get no verb, no full sentence, and confusion.

Unfortunately, you're almost certainly wrong. "Whether" is an interrogative subordinator/complementiser that introduces a clause. I.e., [whether + noun + verb phrase]. This is the stripped correct sentence (the clause introduced by "whether" is bracketted):

Skill and complexity determine [whether an audience helps performance].

You are combining a noun ("skill") and a clause ("whether ...") into a meaningless assemblage:

Skill and [whether complexity determines an audience] helps performance.


I think you may have misunderstood the meaning of the sentence.

Hence, the performer’s level of skill and the complexity of the skill itself will determine whether an audience helps or hinders performance.

Here's a paraphrase:

Whether an audience will help or hinder a performance is determined by how difficult it is to master the particular skill involved and the level of skill that the performer has attained.

In other words, if you're going to do a quadruple-spin jump (a very difficult thing to accomplish) and you've only been able to do a double-spin jump successfully, having an audience watch you as you attempt a quadruple will probably hinder you, not help you.

P.S. Your sentence is ungrammatical. whether should head the complement of determine.


The original sentence asserts that an audience may either help or hinder [an entertainer's] performance. Which of those two possibilities occurs depends on two factors...

X: the performer’s level of skill
Y: the complexity of the skill itself

Hence, those two factors (X and Y) determine how an audience reacts
(i.e. - whether the audience help the performer or not)

I don't understand why the OP thought whether should have some special relationship with "factor Y" above, but hopefully my deconstruction helps to show the correct relationships between the parts of the complete utterance.


You're attempting to use "whether" in a manner that manipulates its quality as a particle but ignores its meaning. "Whether" almost always introduces a binary. That binary can be implied, but it needs to immediately follow the word. In the original sentence, the binary is "the audience helping or hindering a performance." You have attempted to change the binary to "the complexity of the skill itself determining (or not)..." This leaves the binary for the audience essentially unmarked and ungrammatical. ("Determine" does not take direct objects when it means the equivalent of "influence." "Determine an audience" is not something you will ever hear from a native speaker. "Determine an audience helps or hinders" is a nonsense phrase.)

You could, with significant changes in meaning, shift "whether" to the first part of the sentence, but the "audience" portion has to be voiced as a qualitative consequent and not a binary (e.g "...whether the performer’s level of skill and the complexity of the skill itself will determine an audience's reaction.") This changes the meaning of the sentence to be an evaluation considering whether performer skill affects audience reaction or not. I imagine this is probably not the intended meaning in context. But you'll notice that I shifted "whether" to the very beginning of my example. I will echo other commenters: it's unclear why you are treating "complexity of skill" as a binary to be modified by "whether" and "level of skill" as qualitative. The sentence is, as a result, wrong in both its clauses.


It is not incorrect, though might have an extra comma for clarity, but it is conveying a different meaning and very few people would phrase something like that.

"Hence, the performer’s level of skill, and whether the complexity of the skill itself will determine an audience, helps or hinders performance."

So this says that two things help or hinder performance: the performer’s level of skill and whether the complexity of the skill itself will determine an audience.

The second of which questions if how difficult the performance is will mean people will want to consume the performer's work. For example, there's a smaller audience for complicated jazz than for 4:4 pop - in this sense determine means "to control or influence something directly" https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/determine

So it now is saying

  • how skillful the performer is
  • whether or not many people want to listen to someone that skillful

both help or hinder an individual performance.

Whether than is true or not is another question.

  • 3
    You're trying to force "determine an audience" to mean something completely different from the usual usage (of which you gave an example). It means "learn who your audience is" and not "control your audience".
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 3 at 21:26

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