In the song “Whenever, Wherever,” popular Colombian singer Shakira tells us about a long-distance romance. At one point in the song, she asserts that time and distance are of little importance when two people are meant for each other:
Can't you see
I'm at your feet
We're meant to be together
I'll be there and you'll be near
And that's the deal, my dear…
In the song, Shakira uses the words “whenever” and “wherever,” meaning “it doesn’t matter when” and “it doesn’t matter where.”
From popular songs to written and spoken communication, English speakers use what are called “-ever words” quite a lot. Today, we will explore the meanings and uses of these words.
Each one is formed by taking what we call “wh- question words” –like when and where -- and adding the word -ever to them.
A common structure for -ever words is: -ever word + subject + verb.
And, as you will see, each word has two main meanings, and they are not very different.
Let’s start with the word whatever. The word whatever can mean “anything” at all or “it doesn’t matter what.”
Listen to an example:
You can have whatever you like.
This sentence means: “You can have anything that you like.”
Whatever also means “it doesn’t matter what.”
Whatever you do, don’t come home after sunset!
This sentence means: “I don’t care what you are doing. Just don’t come after sunset!” In this case, “Whatever you do” is a not a necessary clause, but is used to emphasize when to return home.
Our next -ever word is whichever. The word whichever can mean “any one of a group” or “it doesn’t matter which.”
English learners may ask about the difference between whichever and whatever. Here’s what’s different: whichever is used when identifying from a set of choices that are known to both the speaker and the listener.
Those three hats are the nicest. Choose whichever you like best and I’ll buy it.
This means: “Choose any one of the three hats and I’ll buy it.”
The word whichever also means “it doesn’t matter which.”
I’m not sure whether I want to go to Martinique, Guadeloupe or St. Lucia.
Whichever trip you choose, I’m sure you’ll get lots of time in the sun.
The second speaker is saying: “It doesn’t matter which trip you choose. I’m sure you’ll get to spend a lot of time in the sun.”
Our next -ever word is: whoever or whomever. Unlike other -ever words, this word has two forms.
The word whomever has become less common over the years because of the difficulty people have had knowing when to use it. Today, whoever is more popular in American English.
The word whoever can mean “any person” or “it doesn’t matter who.”
Whoever told you that didn’t know much about cars.
This means: “Any person who gave you that piece of information did not know much about cars.”
Whoever also means “it doesn’t matter who.”
Whoever you go with, make sure they bring their cell phone.
The speaker is saying that it doesn’t matter who you go with. Make sure they bring their phone.
Now we’ll tell you about wherever, whenever and however and give you some sentence examples. But this time, instead of us telling you the meaning, you can tell us the meaning in the Comments section.
Our next word -- wherever -- can mean “in at or to any place” or “it doesn’t matter where.”
Listen an example:
Home can be wherever you find happiness.
And here’s another one:
Wherever the boy went, the dog followed.
Tell us what you think each sentence means.
Onto our next -ever word: whenever. This word can mean “at any time” or “it doesn’t matter when.”
Here’s one example:
I’m going to stay for another hour. Feel free to leave whenever you want.
And here’s another:
Whenever you have time, let’s sit down and have some pie.
Did you guess the meanings of these whenever sentences?
In the second example the word whenever is used simply to emphasize that this can happen when the person has time. Replacing whenever with the word when would express the same basic meaning.
Now, let’s move on to our final -ever word for today: however. As you may know, however can have a few meanings, including being a synonym for the word but.
But today, we’ll talk about its meanings as an -ever word. However can mean “in any way” or “it doesn’t matter how.”
Listen to an example:
We will help you however we can.
Here’s the second example:
However you do it, please finish it by 10 tomorrow morning.
Tell us what you think the meanings are in the Comments.
What can you do?
So, how can you become comfortable using -ever words?
The next time you’re reading something, listening to a song, or watching a film or television show in English, look for examples of -ever words.
Then, try using them in your everyday conversations. If you practice these words enough, you’ll be able to use them whenever and wherever you like.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
‘any one of a group’ or
‘any person’ or
‘any place’ or
‘any time’ or
‘any way’ or
Words in This Story
assert – v. to state something in a strong and definite way
it doesn’t matter – expression. used to say that something is not important
clause - n. a part of a sentence that has its own subject and verb
emphasize – v. to give special attention to something
synonym – n. a word that has a similar meaning as another word in the same language
comfortable – adj. causing no worries, difficulty or uncertainty
practice - v. to do something again and again in order to become better at