Jeremy Butterfield

Making words work for you

Whereas or where as? One word or two? Commonly confused words (27-28)

8 Comments

 

whereas_whereas

(27 & 28 of 30 commonly confused words)

Where as???

A while ago, when reading The Times, I was struck by this sentence: “He was apolitical. He [sc. Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi PM] never mentioned Iraq where as some students were vociferous.” Aug 16, 2014.

I blogged about it at the time. Since then, that page has become one of the most visited, so I thought I’d update it.

Is it correct to write whereas as two words nowadays?

Short (and long) answer: no.

It had never occurred to me that whereas might be written as two words.

Of course, it could easily be, since it is a simple combination of where and as.

Several “words” are sometimes written as one unit and sometimes as two, for example under way and underway, any more and anymore, and so forth. Sometimes whether you write them one way or the other is simply a matter of house style or regional or personal preference; at other times, the difference can be grammatical, e.g. anymore.

But whereas is not one of those: no current dictionary that I know of accepts the two-word spelling.

whereas_diderot

A quick check in the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) shows that whereas whereas as a single word appears over 100,000 times, as two words, it’s in the hundreds.

It is impossible to give an exact figure for it as two words, because searching for the string where as also finds sentences such as “Wolfowitz joined the bank in 2005 after working at the Pentagon, where as deputy defense secretary he was…

What is clear, however, is that where as is highly unusual, i.e. less than one per cent of cases. The OEC data also suggests that it occurs often in news and blog sources (come back subs, all is forgiven!). Just what do they teach those journalists these days?

Was it ever two words?

Historically, it was originally two words. The earliest OED example is from The Paston Letters (1426-7), in the meaning, now largely confined to legal writing, “taking into consideration the fact that”:

Where as þe seyd William Paston, by assignement and commaundement of þe seyd Duk of Norffolk…was þe styward of þe seyd Duc of Norffolk.

(As you will no doubt have worked out, the þ symbol stands for the ‘th’ sound. It was used in Old English, is still used in Icelandic, and is called a thorn since it begins that word.)

In its principal modern meaning (“in contrast”), it first appears in Coverdale’s Bible (1535), also as two words:

There are layed vp for vs dwellynges of health & fredome, where as we haue lyued euell.

(From Book 2 of Esdras, not included in the AV.)

The first OED citation for it as one word is in Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1 (written before 1616).

I deriued am From Lionel Duke of Clarence…; whereas hee, From Iohn of Gaunt doth bring his Pedigree.

So, while there are historical precedents for the two-word spelling, whereas is one of those words that current spelling convention decrees should not be sundered.

whereas_chekhov


If you enjoy this blog, and find it useful, there’s an easy way for you to find out when I blog again. Just sign up (in the right-hand column, above the Twitter feed, if you’re viewing this on laptop, and, probably, at the bottom of this post, after comments, on other platforms) and you’ll receive an email to tell you. “Simples!”, as the meerkats say. I shall be blogging regularly about issues of English usage, word histories, and writing tips. Enjoy!


We’ve seen whereas above used to contrast clauses …

whereas_attwood-quote

 

And — as in the Paston Letter quotation earlier — it is often used, especially in US laws, to introduce a clause, or usually several clauses, setting out the reasons for something.

whereas_homresolution

The town of Merrill, Oregon, institutes a Carl Barks day, to honour a Donald Duck cartoonist.

Does it have other meanings?

Yes.

1. Historically, it was used to mean simply “where”, but that use died out long ago, except as a poetic archaism, as illustrated in the second quotation below from the Arts & Crafts designer and writer William Morris:

That…oure heartes maye surely there bee fixed, where as true ioyes are to be founde.

Bk. Common Prayer (STC 16267) Celebr. Holye Communion f. lxiiiiv, 1549.

And quickly too he gat | Unto the place whereas the Lady sat.

W. Morris, Earthly Paradise ii. 655, 1868.

J. W. Waterhouse's 1888 "The Lady of Shalott", Tate Britain.

J. W. Waterhouse’s 1888 “The Lady of Shalott”, Tate Britain.

2. Whereas is also a noun.

It can mean “A statement introduced by ‘whereas’; the preamble of a formal document.”

While the contrary remains unproved, such a Whereas must be a most inadequate ground for the present Bill.

S. T. Coleridge, Plot Discovered 23, 1795.

The rule seems to be that if a candidate can recite half a dozen policy positions by rote and name some foreign nations and leaders, one shouldn’t point out that he sure seems a few whereases shy of an executive order.

Slate.com, 2000.

As a further historical footnote, it is interesting that the legalistic, ritual use of whereas as a preamble to legal documents led to its being used as a noun, defined as follows in the Urban Dictionary of its day, Grose’s 1796 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: 

To follow a whereas; to become a bankrupt…: the notice given in the Gazette that a commission of bankruptcy is issued out against any trader, always beginning with the word whereas.

whereas_rakes-progress-the-arrest

Tom Rakewell, from Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, narrowly escapes arrest for debt while on his way to Queen Caroline’s birthday party.

Advertisements

Author: Jeremy Butterfield

Editor of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Writer, wordsmith, copywriter, copy-editor and lover of words. I provide editing, web copywriting, and marketing copywriting services in the Central Belt of Scotland, including Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounding areas, as well as throughout the UK. You can find me on Twitter @JezzB2.

8 thoughts on “Whereas or where as? One word or two? Commonly confused words (27-28)

  1. Wolfowitz joined the bank in 2005 after working at the Pentagon, where as deputy defense secretary he was…”
    Now then…I feel, because I love commas, which can help understanding and reduce misunderstanding, that if it were written, “Wolfowitz joined the bank in 2005 after working at the Pentagon, where, as deputy defense secretary, he was…”. Totally clears up any ambiguity as far as I’m concerned
    There is a school of thought that maintains one can use too many commas. I do not belong to that school of thought. They were invented by the Grammar/Punctuation God for a reason.
    Thoughts?

    Like

  2. Hello, Margaret, thanks for your comment. I reproduce quotes verbatim, so the missing commas are in the original. Yes, I couldn’t agree more, that a second one is necessary here [though that previous comma of mine is not modern style! ;-]. The phrase “as deputy defense secretary” is supplementary information — in fact, an appositive of some kind, co-referential with “Wolfowitz” — and should therefore be opened and closed off with a comma.

    Like

  3. Commas…brings back my schoolday memories. The scientists amongst us still had to do three periods of English per week, even after sitting our Highers, so we were given esoteric grammar lessons and allowed to pick a book or play to study (the Arts pupils had to do as they were told). We chose “King Lear” because that’s what the others were reading; the teacher was thu-rilled. Arts students didn’t have to study any science btw. I totally digress for no good reason whatsoever.
    Esoteric grammar… the teacher asked, “Tell me, girls, can you spot the difference in meaning between “The book, which is on the table, is red” and “The book which is on the table is red”. We all could and decades later I can still remember her huge sigh of relief as she started the lesson from there. The power of the comma, chaps. Not exactly the difference between life and death, but still worth studying.

    Like

  4. Well, you must have been in a class of “superior” girls. I have given writing classes to graduate professionals, and spent hours trying to explain the difference, and they really could not grasp it. Perhaps I’m a crap teacher; or perhaps people are really less sensitive to nuance nowadays. Discuss.

    Like

    • Yes, it was a terrific school with the very best teachers, and we all worked very hard. We weren’t, incidentally, given a list of of books/plays from which to choose, it was totally up to us. On reflection, of course, it was probably just easier to choose what the “official” play was for the others, than have a big discussion, but we all liked Shakespeare. We’d studied a different Shakespeare play each year for five years, so maybe it was just brainwashing.

      Like

  5. That is really fascinating, You’re an excessively skilled
    blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to searching for more of your wonderful post.
    Additionally, I have shared your website in my social networks

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s