Whether or Weather or…Wether?

Wether is a word that often slips past spell check. This is thanks to the fact that it’s easily confused with two homonyms, whether and weather. It’s easy to miss the single letter that separates these words as you’re typing along! And unless you happen to be a farmer, you probably didn’t know that wether refers to either a male sheep or ram, or a castrated ram or billy goat. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology, you can trace the word’s roots back to Goth, Old Norse, Old High German, and Old English. 

As we all know, Microsoft Word can be pretty easily confused, but we don’t have to deal with the same confusion.

Weather, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology, refers to the condition of the atmosphere. Hot or cold, sunny or stormy, that’s all weather. When this word was first used in Old English in the 12th century, it had a negative or adverse connotation. Then, in the 14th century, it also came to refer to the direction of the wind. Its roots come from various terms that mean either storm or wind.

Weathering, which is a derivation of the word weather, refers to the result of exposure to weather such as wind. 

Whether is frequently misspelled when used to introduce a question. Typically, whether outlines a choice between two options. This word’s roots are Old High German and Old English.

The farmers wondered whether the terrible weather had an effect on their wether.

Graphic depicting the difference between weather (meteorological occurence), whether (a choice) and a wether (a male goat or a ram)

How About the Word “Weather” as a Verb?

Weather is most often used as a noun that describes what’s happening outside, as in, “Is the weather rainy, sunny, or cloudy?” But this word can be used as a verb as well.

You won’t see this usage of weather as often, and it sometimes sounds a bit formal or old-fashioned. However, you’re certain to come across it occasionally, so it’s worth understanding. Here are a few examples of weather as a verb. 

Example #1:

After so many years, it’s not surprising that the stone is weathered.

Here, the verb “weathered” means that the stone has been worn away or eroded because of the weather, in particular, the wind and the rain.

Example #2:

Our business has managed to weather the recession.

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

Example #3:

The house won’t weather the storm.

Used when discussing storms, “weather” means to “come safely through.”

More About Using “Whether”

Whether cannot be used as a noun or a verb. It is a conjunction used in situations where there are two options. In some cases, one option can be implied rather than stated. 

Whether is frequently followed by “or not.” In many situations, “or not” is implied. Take a look at these examples:

  • I’ll go to the beach whether or not it’s hot outside.
  • I’m trying to decide whether I’m going to eat another piece of cake.
  • I wonder whether you heard me correctly?
  • I’m not sure whether I’ll go to Jay’s graduation party or Macy’s baby shower.
  • I’d like for you to apologize to me, whether or not you’re actually sorry.

The word “whether” can be replaced with “if” in many sentences, although this doesn’t work well if there’s an “or not” immediately following “whether”. The examples below work with an “if”:

  • I’m trying to decide if I’m going to eat another piece of cake.
  • I wonder if you heard me correctly?
  • I’m not sure if I’ll go to Jay’s graduation party or Macy’s baby shower.

The following two almost work with “if” and the repositioning of “or not”, but they do sound a little awkward:

  • I’ll go to the beach if it’s hot outside or not.
  • I’d like for you to apologize to me, if you’re actually sorry or not.

Why Do People Confuse Wether, Weather, and Whether?

If you’ve ever seen wether in a written piece, it was probably a typo, unless you saw it in an article about farming. The words weather and whether are both used commonly, however. That’s why they’re so easy to confuse. Since they’re homonyms, they sound the same, but their meanings and spellings are different. That can make them especially challenging to keep straight. 

There’s another possible confusion with the word “wither,” a verb that means “decay” or “shrivel,” as in, “The flower withered in the vase.” You might also see whether and weather being confused with the word “whither,” an archaic term that means “to where,” as in, “Whither are you going?”

If you’re not certain of which word to use in your own writing, just remember that whether typically introduces a question, although there won’t always be a question mark involved. Similar to many other question words, whether begins with “wh,” just like who, what, when, where, and why. 

Related: Now go and learn about another pair of close sounding words separated in spelling by just only letter:  affect and effect.

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