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I wonder if there is a difference between the words "whole" and "entire". For example, the following sentences:

  • I spent my whole life waiting for you.

  • I spent my entire life waiting for you.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

“Whole” comes from “unhurt”, and means a single object that has not been subdivided.

“Entire” comes from “complete”, and means no part has been left out.

They are different when you are talking about collections of objects; the entire lot of cars, or the entire staff, since these are collections of distinct objects. You would say a whole loaf of bread or a whole person, since these are single objects not usually considered a collection of parts.

The expression “whole life” considers one’s life to be a single unit that has not been subdivided. An “entire life” means all the parts (years? experiences?) of a life. In this case either could be used.

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Nice. Thank you! –  Kiewic Jan 23 '11 at 18:02

In the context you are using the terms, they are interchangeable.

The only places you wouldn't be able to substitute entire are in idioms as in "on the whole" or "taken as a whole" or "the whole nine yards" and so on. Also, only whole works in the following sentence.

The shark swallowed the tuna whole.

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+1 Good point. They're generally very close synonyms, except in certain phrases/idioms. –  Noldorin Jan 22 '11 at 18:06

There are a few instances where the words are not synonyms. These include the botanical entire, meaning a leaf without an indented edge, or in farming parlance entire meaning uncastrated. In mathematics you could have a whole number, but not an entire one. But if you ignore these special meanings they are more or less interchangeable, except as pointed out by the other answerers.

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