Whenever vs. When Ever

By Maeve Maddox

It’s interesting that two-word phrases like “any place,” “a lot,” and “all right” are often squeezed into nonstandard one-word forms like anyplace, alot, and alright, but one-word wherever is often written incorrectly as “when ever.”

As a relative conjunction introducing a conditional clause, whenever means “at whatever time, no matter when.”

Here are some examples in which whenever is used correctly:

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.—Mark Twain

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.—Oscar Wilde.

Whenever I turn on my computer, the screen says “Monitor going to sleep.”

Here are examples of whenever incorrectly written as two words:

Incorrect: Journalists are like dogs, when ever anything moves they begin to bark.
Correct : Journalists are like dogs, whenever anything moves they begin to bark.

Incorrect: She smiles at me when ever I see her.
Correct : She smiles at me whenever I see her.

Incorrect: The computer crashes when ever I try to game.
Correct : The computer crashes whenever I try to game.

The words when and ever are written separately when the sense is “when, if ever?”

Here are some examples of when ever used correctly:

When ever will you get over your fear of cats?

When ever will you have this chance again? 

When ever will they learn to not put stuff up there?

When ever did these feelings start? 

When ever are you going to clean the house?

When, Ever, Is a Murderer Anything but a Murderer?

If your intended meaning is “every time that,” write whenever.

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2 Responses to “Whenever vs. When Ever”

  • Wanda Bower

    Perhaps you could also address the use of “whenever” when “when” is actually the word needed. For example, “Whenever my car got stuck in the snow today, I had to walk the rest of the way home.” I’m pretty sure this person wasn’t foolish enough to get stuck multiple time in one day. Well, perhaps, for someone uses whenever instead of when…. Sigh. Or is that a regionalism here in north-central PA?

  • venqax

    It is certainly true that a simple When often suffices when a Whenever is used:

    “When [ ] you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”—Mark Twain

    “When [ ] I turn on my computer, the screen says ‘Monitor going to sleep.’ ”

    Sometimes, however, Whenever does impart additional meaning. A useful word that probably gets overused from a practical POV. It is stylistically handy.

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