Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Background: I have an undefined, informal and ongoing relationship with someone where we often meet in the late evening at his place. Occasionally, we might go to a bar first but we don't really hang out socially at all beyond that. Currently, we are both making an effort to expand on the relationship to include other activities.

Texting:

me:   do you want to do whatever tonight...?
him:  define whatever. lol. 
me:   google says... whatever -> pronoun & determiner: used to emphasize a lack of
      restriction in referring to any thing or amount, no matter what.
me:   I guess I could have chosen "something" instead, which would have also implied 
      that I do not prefer the nothing possibility included in the scope of 
      whatever 
him:  so... just to clarify... candyflipping at a rave is out?
me:   ummmmmmm... technically, based on what i said at least, it is still in.  but no, 
      we should not do that.  

And then we debated my word choice. (yes, I'm lots of fun...)

So, here's my argument for using whatever over something... The idea of something essentially means "not nothing" or "more than nothing". However, whatever does include both "nothing" and "anything"... and in that, nothing can be expanded towards "nothing together" and "nothing apart". By saying something, the nothing is entirely removed (except, of course, if he says no to the question as a whole and turns me down tonight). I chose whatever because I feel like the question in itself removes the absolute nothing from whatever. Also, I did not want to exclude our normal "nothing out in the world but alone in your room together" activity and using something might appear like I am asking for something other/more than that tonight.

What I wanted to say: I am good with anything together. I do not specifically have something else to suggest for tonight but if he has something he wants to do with me, I am willing to go with him. I am happy with what we normally do together. I also understand if he is busy but I would prefer to meet up. I think whatever was the better choice.

What he said: the words are the same and using whatever makes me sound like I am 12 years old.

share|improve this question

closed as unclear what you're asking by TrevorD, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, MετάEd, user49727, FumbleFingers Oct 5 '13 at 20:24

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
I agree with your feelings on the matter. "Whatever" feels wide open (as your friend recognized with the joke about a rave) whereas "something" may have restrictions. "Whatever" imparts an ambivalence that "something" does not, but that's just my opinion. –  Lumberjack Oct 4 '13 at 19:27
2  
Er...in this context, I'd be interpreting "whatever" as a euphemism for sex (unless I'm totally off-base here). Why not be specific and say "I'm open to suggestions", or "Wanna go clubbing?", or "I've got a hankering for sushi.", etc. –  Kristina Lopez Oct 4 '13 at 19:28
    
@KristinaLopez - it kind of was... but I am open to alternatives or other things before/after and I didn't want to exclude anything specific or be extremely direct by saying anything similar to "dtf?" –  gloomy.penguin Oct 4 '13 at 19:36
    
"Whatever" when paired with "..." implies use your imagination here, pal. Punctuation in this case is almost as important as word choice. Some people even verbalize "dot-dot-dot"... meaning that it's significant. Am I right? –  LindaBrammer Oct 4 '13 at 19:44
2  
I guess, for me... it's an issue with when you hang out with someone... either the focus is on the activity or it's on the person. Something seems to imply, to me, my concern is with an activity (or event). Whatever seems to imply, to me, my main concern is with seeing him. (I love using ... to show natural pauses or imply something {and I love the word imply, apparently}) –  gloomy.penguin Oct 4 '13 at 19:45

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Hmmmmmm... Just my take. When someone asks "do you want to do something tonight?" That is a common phrase and has a meaning of do you want to partake in an event. Whether that is a dinner out, movie, concert, a walk, movie in, whatever.

Now if someone says "do you want to do whatever tonight?" I find that a little playful and I read that as "do you want to do whatever [you want to me] tonight?" This is from a guy's point of view but if a girl switched out the term something with whatever I would take that as a night in doing whatever she wanted me to do.

See you are not something unless we are speaking barbarically. However whatever does include whatever I want my mind to think of.

share|improve this answer
    
I wasn't going to say it...but that could easily be a factor too. –  Zibbobz Oct 4 '13 at 19:34
    
yeah . . . something is innocuous to me and whatever is either implicit to mean "anything goes" or can also mean "I don't care" if said in a dismissive way. –  Kristina Lopez Oct 4 '13 at 19:50
    
+1; a common response to "do you want to do something" is "no lets just stay in and do nothing", so it implicitly permits the do-nothing option as its negative reply. –  Michael Edenfield Oct 5 '13 at 0:30

In preface, I would like to point out that I think you are vastly overthinking the subtle difference between these two words.

But since you don't seem to mind doing this, note that "whatever" is a very informal word that probably means very different things to different people, generations, dialects and social cliques.

Here is how each of these phrases would be interpreted in my culture.


Do you want to do whatever tonight?

Are you up for doing something miscellaneous and unplanned tonight? Or do you want to plan a specific activity?


Do you want to do something tonight?

Do you want to hang out together tonight? Or should we each do our own thing?


The distinction is one of pre-planning versus one of togetherness. The difference is subtle, however, and disappears quickly:

Alice: What do you want to do tonight?

Bob: Whatever.


Alice: What do you want to do tonight?

Bob: Something.

The response of "whatever" is more apathetic toward a specific goal or activity but absolutely includes the possibility that nothing will happen at all. The response of "something" is actively declaring that "nothing" is not desired but does not provide more specifics about what activity should occur.

Likewise:

Alice: Do you want to do whatever tonight?

Bob: No.


Alice: Do you want to do something tonight?

Bob: No.

In this case, the rejection of "something" is a declaration that nothing should occur. The rejection of "whatever" is most likely the same thing but could technically imply that Bob wants a more concrete plan.

There is an implication that "something" means "something special/different/out of the ordinary" but this is only a possibility in the sense that a particular couple decides to use the phrase this way.

Alice: Do you want to do something tonight?

Bob: No, let's just hang out in my room.

With all of this in mind, here are my specific answers for your individual points.


The idea of something essentially means "not nothing" or "more than nothing".

Correct.

However, whatever does include both "nothing" and "anything"... and in that, nothing can be expanded towards "nothing together" and "nothing apart".

If someone asked me if I wanted to do "whatever" I would interpret that as a question asking if I wanted to anything and what kind of anything I want to do if I agree.

By saying something, the nothing is entirely removed (except, of course, if he says no to the question as a whole and turns me down tonight).

Saying "no" to "whatever" could very much have the same purpose. You, the asker, do not get to beg the question that they do want to hang out with you by avoiding the word "something." They can absolutely turn you down after you ask if they want to do "whatever."

If they respond with "yes" then, in both cases, the implication is that they want to do some activity with you.

I chose whatever because I feel like the question in itself removes the absolute nothing from whatever.

No, it does not but only in the sense that you are primarily asking if absolute nothing is on the table. As in, do they want to hang out?

Also, I did not want to exclude our normal "nothing out in the world but alone in your room together" activity and using something might appear like I am asking for something other/more than that tonight.

This is a good distinction between "something" and "whatever" since "something" tends to be more of a planned, extra activity. "Hang out in your room" is a valid answer to "something" but there is an implication that something more interesting would be on the docket.

What I wanted to say: I am good with anything together. [...]

In your case I would also have chosen "whatever". I would also have considered "anything special":

Do you want to do anything special tonight? Or just whatever?

As for whether "whatever" makes you sound like a 12 year old, that is beyond the scope of EL&U.

share|improve this answer
    
I think "anything" might be the correct word... I might get a lot more than I can deal with if I say "anything special" given what we normally do together. "Something" still seems to imply that I want more than what we normally do. –  gloomy.penguin Oct 4 '13 at 22:05

The reason behind his preference for "something" I would think is that "nothing" is assumed here to be the default. So including it in the question is slightly redundant.

To avoid this problem in the future, you may simply want to ask if he'd like to "get together" with you instead, which cuts straight to the point of wanting company, whether or not an activity is involved.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.