Wether is a prime example of a word that will slip past the spell check. It is easily confused with two of its homonyms, whether and weather. Flying fingers find it easy to miss the single letter that separates them. Unless you’re a farmer, you might not even know that wether is either a:
male sheep or ram (the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology traces its roots to Old English, Old High German, Old Norse and Goth)
castrated ram or billy goat (according to A Word A Day).
We all know that MS Word can be easily confused, but there’s no need for us to face the same confusion.
Weather, that stuff up there in the sky, is the ‘condition of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, calm or storm, etc’. That’s according to the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology.
Interestingly, when it was first used in Old English in the 12th century, weather always had adverse implications. In the 14th century, the term also referred to the wind direction, and its roots lie in various terms meaning either wind or storm.
Weathering, derived from weather, is the result of exposure to wind and weather.
The frequently misspelled whether is used to introduce a question, often outlining a choice between options. Its roots lie in Old English and Old High German.
Here’s my attempt at using them all in a sentence. The farmer wondered whether the adverse weather had affected his wether.
How About the Word “Weather” as a Verb?
While “weather” is usually a noun that applies to what’s happening outside your window – whether it’s sunny, raining, cloudy, and so on – the word “weather” can also be a verb.
This usage is less common, and can sometimes come across as a little formal or old-fashioned, but you’re likely to come across it at least sometimes, so it’s well worth knowing about.
Here are some examples of “weather” as a verb:
After so many years, it’s no surprise that the rocks are weathered.
In this context, the verb “weathered” means that the rocks have been worn away or eroded by the action of the weather: the wind and rain, in particular.
Our company has managed to weather the recession.
In this sentence, “weather” means to “withstand” or “survive” something that’s difficult or dangerous.
The ship won’t weather the storm.
Used in the context of ships and storms, “weather” means to “come safely through”.
More About Using “Whether”
The word “whether” can only be used as a conjunction. It can’t be a verb or noun.
It’s used in situations where there are two options, though one option may be implied rather than stated.
“Whether” is quite often, but by no means always, followed with “or not”. In many cases, “or not” is implied.
Here are some examples:
I’ll go to the park whether or not it’s sunny.
I’m trying to decide whether I’d like another glass.
I wonder whether you heard me right?
I don’t know whether I should go to John’s leaving party or Mary’s baby shower.
I’d like you to apologize, whether or not you’re sorry.
In many sentences, the word “whether” could be replaced with “if”, though this doesn’t work well if there’s an “or not” immediately after “whether”.
These sentences work with an “if”:
I’m trying to decide if I’d like another glass.
I wonder if you heard me right?
I don’t know if I should go to John’s leaving party or Mary’s baby shower.
These two just about work with “if” and the repositioning of “or not”, but sound a little awkward:
I’ll go to the park if it’s sunny or not.
I’d like you to apologize, if you’re sorry or not.
Why Do People Confuse Wether, Weather, and Whether?
If you find “wether” in a written piece, it’s almost certainly a simple typo (unless you’re reading a farming magazine).
The words “weather” and “whether” are both in common use, though, and that’s why it’s easy for people to confuse them. As homonyms, they sound the same but have different spellings and meanings – and that can make them especially tricky to remember.
Another possible confusion is with the word “wither”, which is a verb that means “shrivel” or “decay” – as in “the fruit withered on the tree”.
You may also find “whether” and “weather” getting muddled up with the word “whither” which is an archaic word meaning “to where” – as in, “whither are you bound?”
If you’re unsure which you want in your own writing, remember that “whether” is always used to introduce some kind of question (though there won’t necessarily be a question mark involved). Like many other question words, it starts with a “wh” – compare with why, where, who, what, and when.