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I increasingly encounter people who misuse "whenever" when they really mean "when":

Whenever I first came to St. Louis, I lived with my Aunt Judy...

Bugs me to death. Obviously they are talking about a one-time event, not "every time I visited St. Louis", which would be a valid use of "whenever".

Is this a common misuse? Is this a regional thing (St. Louis, MO, USA)? This isn't a valid alternate use, is it?

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Yuck! This is my number one english language pet peeve! –  jjclarkson Jul 26 '13 at 17:53
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6 Answers

This is a known dialect feature of the American South (but I can't find a reference right now). I don't know that it has a different meaning from "when" in your dialect.

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I have also heard it from a Northern Irelander. It is clearly a part of some people's dialect, so it is offensive to call it a "misuse", though I too found it strange when I first heard it. –  Colin Fine Jan 5 '11 at 15:29
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I live in Georgia and can't ever remember ever having heard whenever misused in this way. –  snumpy Oct 6 '11 at 13:59
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This usage, where it means "at an unspecified/uncertain time" is fairly common. I usually hear it (and say it) in a construction more like, "Whenever it was that I first came to...". I don't know if you would also object to this structure.

In terms of being "valid", the dictionary lists:

adv.

  1. At whatever time.

  2. When. See Usage Note at whatever.

conj.

  1. At whatever time that: We can leave whenever you're ready.

  2. Every time that: The child smiles whenever the puppy appears.

Surely you say things like "whenever you want" -- this is the same "whenever".

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These are certainly ok in most dialects, but I think the OP was asking about cases where a speaker clearly does not mean an unspecified time. –  JoFrhwld Aug 18 '10 at 16:09
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I meant unspecified in the sense of "It happened at a specific time, but I don't know/recall/care what that time was." That is what the sentence means, right? –  Kosmonaut Aug 18 '10 at 17:26
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Those two conj. uses are the ones that "feel right" to me. Your "Whenever it was..." example seems to make sense, but I hear people use it all the time even when (whenever??) they are talking about a specific defined time, not just an uncertain time. –  BradC Aug 18 '10 at 17:30
    
Are you saying you are hearing it used interchangeably in place of "when"? Can you give me an example, maybe framing the sentence in the context where it is weird/wrong? –  Kosmonaut Aug 19 '10 at 22:51
    
@Kosmonaut: See the other answers. "Whenever I was ten years old" is a pretty typical (mis)use of the kind I am describing. To me, it clearly should be "When I was ten years old". In my experience, they don't mean "Whatever year it was that I turned ten years old", which is the case you are describing ("whenever it was that...") –  BradC Jan 10 '13 at 17:12
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I have noticed this as well among youth in Northwest Arkansas. I first started noticing it about 6 months ago. My wife has started misusing "whenever" as well. It should only be used to refer to indefinite or unknown times, not a single, specific time. Correct use: "Whenever I am in St. Louis, I visit Busch Gardens." Incorrect use: "Whenever I was 5 years old, I went to Busch Gardens."

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"Every single time out of the one time I was five..." –  Jon Purdy Jan 3 '11 at 17:30
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This is exactly the misuse I was talking about. Still drives me nuts... –  BradC Jan 3 '11 at 17:39
    
What about the example in the question? –  Kosmonaut Jan 3 '11 at 18:11
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This is standard usage in Northern Ireland. I've never heard it anywhere else (I live in the Republic, and I've never heard it here or from my English relatives).

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I keep hearing a couple of people from Kentucky and Oklahoma say things like, "Whenever I was ten years old". Like they were ten years old more than once. Or, "Whenever I was in High School". This just seems like the word should be "When" in these circumstances. It drives me crazy when I hear this.

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Yes, this is the usage that bugs me when I hear it. –  BradC Jan 20 '12 at 22:49
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The first time I heard it used incorrectly was on MTV by a young man from TN. Since then I have noticed news reporters on HLN and CNN use it as well. My first thought was that it was about "location" but I am now inclined to believe that it is either about education or people hearing it and thinking that they, themselves have been wrong all their lives. "Whenever I was at the fire...." I too cringe when it is improperly used.

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This seems more like a comment than an answer. –  MετάEd Jan 10 '13 at 18:19
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protected by RegDwigнt Jan 10 '13 at 16:45

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