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The phrase "The question sought to determine whether or not ..." is (to me) like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I "get" that the question is asked so that research can be conducted to determine X.

What are some shorter-form alternative phrases?

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  • I don't think it helps much with what you want to do (hence not making this an answer, but you can cut "or not" without any loss of meaning or clarity. "Whether or not" is strictly redundant (and gets used by almost everyone anyway).
    – j_foster
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:20
  • Yes, "whether" is sufficient. My Fowler's dictionary offered no suggestions for "sought to determine."
    – RJo
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 1:08
  • Hi, requests for single words or rephrasing a single sentence are off-topic for us but okay on English SE. I have flagged the mods to ask them to migrate. Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 13:49
  • Lauren Ipsum - You mean English Language and Usage (not English Learners), yes? How do I track a question that's been migrated?
    – RJo
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 3:28
  • @RJo this question will link to the question once it's migrated; sending it over right now. Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 4:13

1 Answer 1

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This is a poorly written phrase and sounds awkward out loud.

The sentence is wrought with implicit and implied redundancies, giving it poor structure. That the 'final' word rhymes with the second word could account for the "chalkboard effect."

"The question sought..." This opening subject tells me the writer wasn't confident in the clarity of the initial question and felt the need to rehash or re-explain a question from earlier. From the example the original question seems to be simple and clear. If this is true the answer is to re-write the initial question so there is no need to explain it a second time.

Or ... delete the entire sentence. Back up and rewrite stronger prose in preceding text.

Let's assume we are discussing a complicated question in a complicated subject. Possibly it was first asked in another language and doesn't translate well. In this case, we can replace all that redundant phrasing with,

"He's asking if..." or "He asked if..." or "He asks if..." Note -- "sought" is past-tense and "to determine" is an infinitive. I find this passive and unclear as to which verb-tense the writer is expressing. Same for the verb-stem, also unclear. In the above examples I assumed third-person male and rewrote it in the present-perfect, past and present-tense.

Lastly let's assume the task is to edit the question by itself into something more clear and concise (Based on nothing but the phrase itself).

Questions can be said to ALWAYS seek (an answer). To determine (an answer) is an implied consequence in context.. That's a double-redundancy. We know what kind of answer it is too: "whether or not," --> yes or no? true or false? It's Boolean!

Eliminating redundancies I'd rewrite it as such:

"Is X true?" Or ... "Did X happen?"

Alternately, if we've defined X clearly and with matching verb-tenses as the answer to a yes or no question, we might rewrite it as a conditional logic statement.

"If X, then ..."

Or, simply.

"X?"

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