Posted by: episystechpubs | March 17, 2020

Editor’s Corner: When vs Whenever

Dear Editrix,

I am experiencing a heightened awareness of the word whenever. I was editing a video for another department and the speaker used whenever throughout the video. I thought when would have been sufficient. Then I saw whenever used in Episys eDocs, so I thought there must be some subtle difference that I am not aware of. Can you explain?

Sincerely, K

Dear K,

Considering that people like to use longer, more complicated words when speaking and writing (to sound smarter, to fill space, etc.), my inclination is to agree with you: the speaker is probably using whenever, though when would suffice. But I didn’t see the video, so I’m not sure, and that doesn’t get to your underlying question about the difference between the two. Here is a brief lesson from GrammarBook.com, along with a little quiz for those of you that like testing your skills! (And as usual, I may have changed some of the examples a bit, because that’s how I am.)

Have you ever wondered how to use these words correctly? Have you ever thought, “Oh, either of these words will do”? Let’s have a closer look.

Rule 1 – If an event is unique or its date or time is known, use when.

Examples:

  • The costume ball will begin Saturday evening when the clock strikes eleven.
  • When I told you I wanted a vacation, I meant to a coronavirus-free beach resort, not a ticket to a political rally in a building shaped like a Petri dish!
  • He loved to play Marco Polo with his friends at the local pool when he was a youngster.

Rule 2 – Whenever is best used for repeated events or events whose date or time is uncertain. If you can substitute every time that or at whatever time that in your sentence, then whenever is preferred.

Examples:

  • Whenever I get the dogs leashed, it starts raining.
  • Whenever you decide to stop eating cupcakes and candy bars for lunch, I’ll help you come up with some healthier options.

Note: When can often substitute for whenever but generally not the other way around. The exception is using whenever as an intensive form of when in questions: Whenever will that dog stop barking?

Examples:

Correct:

  • When I get the dogs leashed, it starts raining. (When is acceptable but whenever is preferred for conveying the meaning every time that.)
  • When you decide to stop eating cupcakes and candy bars for lunch, I’ll help you come up with some healthier options. (When is acceptable but whenever is preferred for conveying the meaning at whatever time that.)
  • Whenever will that dog stop barking? (intensive form in a question)

Incorrect:
The costume ball will begin Saturday evening whenever the clock strikes eleven.

Pop Quiz (answers below the puppy)

  1. Do you know when/whenever we’re supposed to arrive at your mother’s house?
  2. Let me know when/whenever you’ll be arriving at the airport next week so I can pick you up.
  3. When/Whenever the baby cries, she clenches her little fists.
  4. I lived in a small town when/whenever I was seven years old.
  5. Do you recheck your math when/whenever you have difficulty balancing your checkbook?

Answers

  1. Do you know when we’re supposed to arrive at your mother’s house?
  2. Let me know when you’ll be arriving at the airport next week so I can pick you up.
  3. Whenever the baby cries, she clenches her little fists. (When could also be used but whenever better conveys the meaning every time that the baby cries.)
  4. I lived in a small town when I was seven years old.
  5. Do you recheck your math whenever you have difficulty balancing your checkbook? (When could also be used but whenever better conveys the meaning at the time that or every time that you have difficulty balancing your checkbook.)

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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