Printable Version
Pronunciation: hwe-dhêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Conjunction, pronoun (interrogative)

Meaning: 1. "If" in an indirect question: "Check whether he is going." 2. Indicating that an expression in an indirect clause applies whichever of the two alternatives also mentioned is true: "I'm going whether you like it or not." 3. In a main clause, which of two or more possibilities: "Whether she wins or not, I'll still love her." 4. (Pronoun, dated) Which of two or more, whichever.

Notes: Whenever we incorporate a sentence starting with if as a clause in another sentence, we may change the if to whether. Other pronouns starting on WH have derivations meaning "any and all": whatsoever, wheresoever, whosoever. Whethersoever today is rare if not obsolete, as "Whethersoever the house is stone, brick, or wooden, I like it".

In Play: As a conjunction, this word is used in subordinate clauses where if would stand were the clause independent: "If you are going, so am I." But we may say: "I want to know whether/if you are going." As a pronoun it is used adjectivally: "Whether candidate (soever) you choose, I will support your choice."

Word History: Today's Good Word was spelled correctly in Old English; hweðer "which of two", with the H before the W. In dialects where the H hasn't disappeared altogether, it is still pronounced the Old English way. Hweðer was derived by combining hw- + æðer "either", which explains why its original meaning was "which of two". Hw- is a descendant of PIE kwo-/kwi-, the roots of PIE interrogative and relative pronouns, also the source of English who, when, where, Latin qui, quando, quo, and Russian kto, kogda, kuda. Æðer is a cognate of Dutch ieder and German jeder "either, each, every". But how it got into English remains a mystery.

Dr. Goodword,

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