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I have encountered wherein several times in many texts, and the general meaning of the texts was quite evident given the context.

However, I do not know the exact meaning of wherein; a dictionary search returns "How, or in what way; Where, or in which location; During which" (Wiktionary).

But what are the contexts it can be used in, and is there any weird way it is being used sometimes? (I realised by now that English can be tricky.)

Also, are there any differences concerning this word between American and British English (my preferred)?

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10  
"What are the contexts it can be used in?" You missed such a great opportunity by not asking "What are the contexts wherein it can be used?" (^_^) –  RegDwigнt Sep 8 '10 at 18:41

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

'Wherein' is generally only used in formal writing. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following senses and quotes. I have given the most recent quote, from which you can tell that the word is no longer generally used.

  1. In what (thing, matter, respect, etc.)?

    1891 - Oh, Britannicus! wherein have we offended?

  2. In which (place, material thing, writing, etc.)?

    1888 - Peering keenly into the shadow wherein she stood

  3. In, at, during, or in the course of which (time).

    1819 - Length of days Wherein to act the deeds which are the stewards Of their revenue.

  4. In which (matter, fact, action, condition, etc.); in respect of which.

    1889 - There began a round of pleasure for Julia wherein she was the central figure.

  5. Into which.

    1585 - We came to an anker very nigh the castle, wherin when our patrone would followe vs [etc.].

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It's not at all true that "wherein" is no longer generally used. (E.g. see recent news results or timeline or blogs.) The OED just doesn't usually give too many quotes unless they use a word in a new way. –  ShreevatsaR Oct 18 '10 at 14:48
    
You're right. Their quotes are sometimes limited, but they do make an effort to show how recently things common words are used. –  J D OConal Oct 18 '10 at 21:54
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(1) I do not think that you have understood what ShreevatsaR said. The OED does not usually give recent quotations unless the word is used in a new way. Therefore, the fact that all the quotations are old only implies that there is not a new way the word is used. It does not imply that the word is not generally used recently. (2) I agree that “wherein” is generally only used in formal context. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 10 '10 at 3:20

It's perhaps less common than it was before, but in general the construction of a preposition followed by a demonstrative or relative pronoun "this/these", "that/those", or "which/what" may be inverted by prefixing the preposition with "here-", "there-", or "where-", respectively.

in which == wherein
from that == therefrom
by this == hereby
after this == hereafter
for which, for what, why == wherefore
for that [reason etc.] == therefore
on that == thereon
to this == hereto

The inversion of a preposition in this manner is shared at least one other Germanic language, namely Swedish.

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protected by Will Hunting Mar 16 '12 at 17:39

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