Wether, Weather, Whether

background image 328

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)

or a:

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:

Example #1:

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.

Example #2:

Our company has managed to weather the recession.

In this sentence, “weather” means to “withstand” or “survive” something that’s difficult or dangerous.

Example #3:

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.

Video Recap

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

29 thoughts on “Wether, Weather, Whether”

  1. Hi! I am one of those who just found this site. I really find this very interesting and informative.

    I am not sure if I am on the right post to post a comment. But I hope somenone here can differentiate the word “advise” and advice” and how they should be used in a sentence. Though I know that there is no such thing as an advicer, but rather adviser. Both words seem to have the same meaning, that is, to give tips, am I right?

    Thanks and I am proud to be included in one of your thousands of subscribers.

  2. My mum often said to me when I was little, ‘A man stood on a hill and wondered, whether The wether would weather The weather or whether The weather the wether would kill.’

    I hope that’s correct.

  3. hi,

    Well said about the use and meaning of “advise” and “advice”. Man, this site really is cool.

    thank you

  4. Correction to my last post: I believe I’d written, “The weather had been forecast…” rather than, “the weather was forecast”. Seems the verbage was her issue wanting to use “forecasted” rather than “forecast”. I don’t believe there is a difference, yet still – the conflict. Whacha think?

  5. Ha, that’s funny. I just came across this site because I was trying to spell “whether” and spelt “wether” instead. I didn’t think it looked right and looked it up in dictionary on the mac. I was like, “That’s not what I meant!”

  6. Yep, first on google for me either. I find the english language somewhat tricky and I hope this site will help me. Going to browse some more and might get addicted 🙂

  7. A way that I like to remember this is that a wether is missing something, and weAther is about the Atmosphere, and whether you can remember those two will determine whether you can spell whether correctly.

  8. In college marching band, our director used to say “we have weather” whenever it was raining. We all thought it was odd. Now I understand what he may have just been using the word in its original sense.

  9. Good day to you, am a Nigerian. Infact, am really pleased with how you elaborated those latin abbreviations. I love it. I bursted in this morning not knowing it’s an educative site.

  10. Hi, does anyone know if there’s a book or a site which tackles extensively the proper use of prepositions? Please help…

  11. To all the English scholars who pride urselves.
    who said english is easy ?

    fill this blanks with yes or No…..

    1.__________ _____ i don’t have a brain.
    2.__________ _____ I don’t have any sense.
    3. ____________ ___ i am stupid.
    4. ____________ ___ i am mad.

    Try to fill . all the best…

  12. To me and many other native anglophones, “whether” has a different first sound and is therefore not a homophone of the other two words.

  13. What of weather with the meaning of “To endure”? Weather the storm. Whether the battle. Wether the illness. Must say the first one looks correct to me. Despite the use of the word storm I think this is an entirely different meaning from either of the ones above. Which is correct?

  14. Weather the storm is the correct form. The allusion is to withstanding the bad weather, hostile elements, etc.

    Jeff: AMEN and BLESS YOU! Yes, whether, begins with an HW sound, not a W sound. This is the rearing head of that loathsome monster called the whine/wine merger– one of the signs of the apocalypse, actually– that some Beastial conspiracy keeps trying to pass under the radar. Evidently the British- those stoic keepers of the language’s flame– have already gone over to the Slobonians on this one. Barbarians.

  15. Wonderful site that I have just stumbled upon! When I was in 2nd grade my teacher, like many of us in that Canadian classroom was of Scottish descent. As a pronunciation and spelling exercise she had us recite and also write out, “Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not!” (No mention of the wether and what he might be missing for our tender ears.) I realize to my chagrin that that was 60 years ago.

  16. I left out a line of the above. It should read: Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be hot, whether the weather be cold or whether the weather be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.

  17. She being Scottish, I hope the purpose of the exercise was to emphasize the differences between the H, W, and HW sounds? HWether the Weataher be Hot, or HWatever? I Hope so.

  18. My mother’s from Trinidad and in grade school they used the phrase: “Whether the weather is hot or whether the weather is not, we’ll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.” I’ve used it both as a tongue twister and explanation of the two uses of weather and the use of whether.

  19. English is described as a ‘bastard’ language, being as it derives from so many linguistic ‘relationships’ and joinings, such as Latin and Greek. It has been called the hardest language for a non native speaker to learn and the ‘whether’ examples show why. Then we have through and thorough ET CETERA. I love studying Latin and still try to use it so as to keep it alive.

  20. Now see, mina from 10 year ago, that wouldn’t have happened if you said HWether for whether. Proves the point, beyond any doubt, that the so-called whine/wine merger is a product of evil linguistic sabotage. It’s Hwy we should should say our Hs Hwenever, Hwatever, Hwerever and Hwoever the circumstances… Okay, that last one is a bit much.

Leave a Comment